I stood in awe amongst the towering trees while a magpie played nearby, keeping a careful eye on me. He didn’t say much but I could tell he was smart.
I didn’t expect this.
“This cemetery is huge.” I thought to myself. “How will I ever find them?” My eyes scanned hundreds of headstones.
I had gone to the GP Cemetery the other day to voluntarily do some burial lookups for people requesting them through Find a Grave. These people are not local and they are seeking to connect the missing pieces of information they need. When requested, I will go and take a picture of the headstone and add it to their memorial page.
I had my list in hand, unprepared for the vastness of this cemetery but eager to search and find who I was looking for. Only one name had a section and plot number.
I found the map displayed just inside the cemetery with a legend of numbers and letters showing different sections.
It’s difficult to see in this image but maybe you can grasp an idea of the size by looking at the top of the picture. Those are cars on the main road passing by the cemetery. Each purple block is a section and within those sections are the individual plots. The grey areas amongst the purple sections are roads.
So here I am with a tiny list in my hand, feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland lost down the rabbit hole in a world of 3000 dead people. Determined, I put one foot in front of the other and off I went on my search.
I wandered for about half an hour, reading headstones, not having any luck in finding the ones on my list when I noticed an area that had more flowers amongst the headstones than others. The colours stood out beyond the grey stones and hazy sky so I made my way over to see why these particular graves had been paid more attention to than others. And then I saw them.
I had wandered into a section of the cemetery that was designated for small toddlers and tiny infants. I didn’t expect this. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a ‘baby section’.
I carefully stepped off the dirt path onto the manicured grass, walked toward the tiny headstones and paused to read each one.
3 years old. One day old. 6 years old. No date, just a year.
It was disturbing and beautiful at the same time. Some plots were marked with small versions of a typical headstone while some were tiny metal signs marking the space of where someone’s child rested. One particularly beautiful grave was marked with a large angel statue.
I had so many questions.
Why did they die? What was their story?
I wondered who the families were and if they had found closure or comfort.
I picked up a toy car that had been swallowed by the grass and placed it next to the nearest headstone. As I stood up I noticed a collection of toys placed lovingly next to another small plot.
I found myself in between graves that had been visited in what seemed like just hours before me with fresh flowers and new toys and those that were weathered but very unlikely forgotten.
I was brought out of my reasoning by the feeling of warm tears on my cheeks cooled by the breeze that touched my face.
Surprised by my emotional reaction and thankful for my pocket kleenex, I wiped my face and my nose.
I said a prayer then looked at my piece of paper to refocus.
On my list, I had the name of a child simply called ‘Baby X’ and plot coordinates to find for a family member that wanted a picture of the headstone. I referenced the cemetery map and made my way a few feet up the path to another ‘baby section’.
But when I arrived the spot was unmarked.
There was only grass.
Was I in the wrong spot? I checked the map again.
Was it recorded wrong? It is a possibility.
Maybe the headstone was damaged or maybe the family couldn’t afford one.
I am not sure if I will learn the truth of why there was no headstone to mark the grave of this baby but I made a note and said another prayer.
I left feeling deficient in my search but inspired with a new goal to go back and continue to work on the project of digitizing the headstones for future family history research and preservation. It is only halfway complete and there are thousands of headstones there.
If you are interested in how you can become a volunteer to help with the digitization of projects like this one please contact me so I can help you learn what part you can play to make a huge difference in the genealogy community.
It is by the collaboration of thousands of people all over the world that we continue to build our branches, spreading outwardly to connect us all as one huge family tree.
This is one way I love to contribute to our Ancestors.
It’s an honour I see as similar to placing flowers amongst the headstones.