52 Weeks to Better Genealogy – Week 22 – Find-a-Grave

I nearly dismissed this week’s challenge out of hand. I had heard of Find-a-Grave, and I thought it was an American site, with only American graves.

I was wrong.

I searched the FAQ for ‘international’ to see if it covered countries other than USA, as I couldn’t easily find this information on the homepage, and found that some fixes had been done to clean up the list of countries, including Australia. Woohoo!

So I did a search for my usual test surname – Eason – and restricted the country to Australia. Eason is uncommon enough that I don’t get thousands of results, and not so uncommon that I don’t get any at all.

Much to my surprise the list of results included John Eason, buried in an unmarked grave in Condobolin. I was a bit surprised, as I have a copy of his NSW death registration and a photo of his headstone in Blayney.

Entry for John Eason, buried in Condobolin in 1933, from Find a Grave
Entry for John Eason, buried in Condobolin in 1933, from Find a Grave

Clicking on the link to Condobolin Lawn Cemetery gives this information:

There are approximately 1000 unmarked graves in the general cemetery.

“I visited the undertaker, the council, the ladies club, the local Anglican and Catholic churches, the local court house and the local historical association, asking what records they had. I tried the local newspaper; they have their back issues to about 1906 on film but they weren’t big on obituaries. They don’t have a monumental mason in Condo.”

In compiling the list, reference was made to the NSW indexes of births, deaths and marriages and to military records for further information. The images may be viewed and downloaded from the list of all inscriptions for this cemetery.

I’m impressed that someone has gone to the trouble of deducing that the reported approximately 1000 unmarked burials in Condobolin Lawn Cemetery must include John Eason, whose death was registered in Condobolin. Unfortunately it is dangerous to make these sorts of assumptions. John was in Condobolin with his daughter when he died, and was apparently transferred to Blayney to be buried with his wife Lily, who predeceased him by three years.

Lily and John Eason Headstone
Headstone of Lily and John Eason, Blayney Presbyterian Cemetery. Photo taken by the author, Dec 2008.

The website allows corrections to be sent to the contributor, and I have now done so.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t dismiss a website just because you assume it is American. It may have gone international.
  2. Don’t assume that the contents of websites where information has been voluntarily entered is correct.

My maternal great-grandmother’s grave in an Auckland suburb

Three generations of my maternal ancestors
Three generations of my maternal ancestors

On a recent trip to New Zealand I took the opportunity to do some research on my mother’s mother’s mother and her family. This great-grandmother, Sarah Louisa Craig Lowe, arrived in Sydney from Auckland some time in the late 1890s and married William Stewart, son of a Scottish immigrant. They lived in Albury, in southern New South Wales, and produced seven fine children.

Sarah’s mother was Margaret Craig, who arrived in Auckland as a four-year-old with her family aboard the Jane Gifford from Scotland in 1842, one of the first immigrant ships to Auckland. Her father had remarried a week before the ship sailed. What a life she must have had, growing up wild in a new town with no schools or playgrounds or any of the things we take for granted that children should have.

In 1862 Margaret married a widower named John Hindley Austin Lowe, who had arrived in New Zealand  two or three years before after first trying his luck in Melbourne in Victoria. After his wife died in Nelson he moved his small family to Auckland. Margaret went on to have more children but then her husband died suddenly when she was pregnant with Sarah. He was 46. I have one photo of him, and he seems like a piece of work. Margaret had many older brothers and I was hopeful that she was looked after when her husband died.

My trip to New Zealand was my opportunity to fill in some of the many blanks I had for this family. Where did Margaret and her family live after John died? How did she get by? What was life like for her? What was Auckland like?

I found a lot of great stuff in the Auckland City Library, the Auckland City Archives, the National Archives of New Zealand Auckland Branch, and the New Zealand Society of Genealogists library. I still haven’t had time to process it all. It turns out that she had property – her house and her father’s; at least, she was paying rates for the two of them. She was on Burger Rolls (not hamburger rolls). She signed the petition in 1893 to give women the vote and enrolled to vote the next year. She worked for a while as a nurse, according to a later electoral roll.

Eventually she sold up her property and moved in with her daughter’s family, where she died a few years later at the respectable age of  79. She was buried in Waikumete Cemetery, and I took the opportunity of seeing the grave.

Corner of Waikumete Cemetery
Corner of Waikumete Cemetery

Waikumete Cemetery is a large, sprawling cemetery in an outer suburb of Auckland. I wasn’t prepared with my maps when we arrived there, having just come from the last day of the AFFHO Congress, but we were out and about in the car and it seemed a good chance to go. I knew the section and I had a vague idea of where it was based on the proximity of fences and roads, but we looked through the long grass for a while and couldn’t find the grave.

Eventually we went back to the office to see if they could help us locate the grave. A very helpful lady gave us a pack with a map and a printout from the NZSG’s Burial Locator. From the map we could see that we’d been looking in the correct section but hadn’t realised it had an odd corner across the creek.

The photo above shows where the grave is. Can you see it? The headstone had fallen over, face down, and I remembered walking past it and thinking “wouldn’t you be annoyed if it was that one?” And of course it was that one.

Margaret Lowe nee Craig's grave
Margaret Lowe nee Craig's grave

My long-suffering husband picked up the headstone and held it up so I could photograph it. Because it had been face down it was in excellent condition and could be easily read.

What I hadn’t expected was how deeply I would be affected by seeing Margaret’s grave. I’d seen her husband John’s and her father Joseph Craig’s graves in the Old Symond Street Cemetery, a fabulous old cemetery which has had the city grow up around it, and that had been exciting but not emotionally engaging.

See Margaret’s grave was different, somehow. She was more important to me, for one thing. Much of who we women are comes from our mothers, and from their mothers, and so on. Margaret is the earliest direct female ancestor that I know anything about, and I now knew quite a bit more about her. And here she was, in this quiet corner of the cemetery among the trees and grasses and flowers of the country she knew best.

I picked some wild flowers (they were probably mostly weeds, really) and put them on the grave, and my husband gave me a few minutes alone. I thought about where she’d come from, and wondered how much she’d remembered of Scotland, and of the voyage over. I thought about her childhood in early Auckland, and what might have made her marry John Hindley Austin Lowe and his family. She lived a long life after her husband died, watched her children grow up and have children of their own, and visited Australia at least once to be present at the birth of her youngest daughter’s first baby, and have her picture taken with them.

It was a memorable day.