Alan Crosby: Grave-digging for clues

By Jon Bauckham, 15 October 2015 - 9:47am

Finding the final resting place of an ancestor can be an incredibly rewarding experience for researchers, says columnist Alan Crosby

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 15 October 2015
Alan Crosby
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Nunhead Cemetery 1960s Getty

Nunhead Cemetery pictured in the 1960s. Five decades later, much of the site is still very overgrown (Photo: Getty Images)

Phil, one of my Canadian cousins, has been doing some long-distance detective work. He’s a passionate family historian and it’s amazing what online technology makes possible.

From distant Edmonton, Alberta, he has tracked down the grave of our direct ancestor (my great great grandfather, his 3x great) in historic Nunhead Cemetery, South London, and this week has sent me a photograph and a plan showing the location.

The grave is a poor state of repair – the inscription’s largely illegible and the tomb itself is tilted. Ivy is growing all around and it’s hung over with old trees. Phil’s going to be in England in a few weeks’ time and he’s hoping to visit the grave in person.

Last year, on the same genealogical trail, he discovered the grave of my great grandmother (the wife of the occupant of the grave at Nunhead). She died 34 years after her husband, and is buried at Dunstable in Bedfordshire, where one of her daughters lived. Her gravestone has a largely legible inscription (it gave some good clues to her birthdate) but it’s broken into several pieces, so Phil and I are thinking of having it restored and re-erected.

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine often features projects to transcribe memorial inscriptions, and all over the country family history and local history societies are trying to record and preserve these vital sources for posterity. But what a massive task it is actually to restore a Victorian cemetery. Our small efforts will be one family’s modest contribution, but there’s such a lot more to do.
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

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