Lost but not forgotten

Admin: The following is a wonderful example of why researchers should never give up, written by  Joanna D, London

This story starts about 40 years ago when a determined family member living in Toronto, Canada (formerly of London) set herself the task of researching the family tree going back to the late 1700’s. She identified so many names, dates and descendents, something to be truly admired in those pre-internet days.

Last spring, after watching a number of films about the holocaust, I was struck by the thought that there were millions of people who had walked this earth with no final resting place. This set me on a course to take the family tree to the next level – to identify where the ancestors were buried, and whether they had a memorial stone on their graves.

I adopted a multi-pronged approach, starting to glean as much information as possible, based on where each ancestor had been living at the time of their passing. This was sometimes a red herring, since some of them were living with married children in their old age, after the passing of their spouse.

The next challenge was that my findings revealed many were buried in cemeteries that are now closed, some of which were very neglected. A book written over 50 years ago about a famous family member, and the incredible work of CemeteryScribes led to the finding of the proverbial needle in a haystack – namely the grave of a great-great grandmother buried in a small London cemetery.


I contacted the relevant burial society well over a year ago. But given the state of the cemetery and lack of public access, this was not going to be so simple. In May of this year I decided to go myself and see if there was any remote chance of finding the grave. The Jewish Gen website had some information regarding the plot reference, but there were two ladies with identical names buried there, having passed away just a few years apart.

At this point I contacted CemeteryScribes, having used their website extensively in the past, and Gaby Laws soon became my ‘partner in crime’ trying to assist in any way possible to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Had it not been for the book published on a famous relative, and its reference to a photo of the grave existing, I might simply have given up. But no, I sent through the text of the epitaph to Gaby, who painstakingly looked through a collection of 500 photos for any matching words on even broken headstones remaining. The search was unsuccessful.

My next step was to google the family member who was a peer of the realm, and also tried to contact him via the House of Lords. Plucking my courage, I discovered a contact address and sent him a letter by snail mail,enclosing my contact details.

I received a cheerful phone call at the beginning of this week – my letter had found its mark, and this distant cousin was not only interested in my quest, but also willing to help. I mentioned my ultimate goal of wanting to replace the headstone if one no longer existed.

He galvanised into action, procuring more information from the burial society and through the extensive and painstaking work already done by Cemetery Scribes – namely photographing all the remaining headstones, and recording all legible details for posterity, we were met with success! 
An hour before midnight last night, Gaby emailed me photos of gravestones adjoining the plot I was searching for, which provided conclusive evidence. The headstone is sadly almost destroyed, having been erected over 130 years ago. Gaby’s helpfulness and responsiveness played a huge part and I do not believe this information could have been obtained without it.

Ancestry and exploring family connections is a fascinating topic, and does much to mold a person’s identity. It may be nice to ‘lean’ on the good names of forebears, but what can this generation do for them in return?

Gaby’s service was invaluable, and I express my sincerest thanks for the dedication and attention to detail shown at every step of the way. A huge thank you!! 

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