In February 2009, I went to Folkestone, on the south coast of England, in search of a grave. I was writing an article on the Trutch family, who were prominent political and social figures in early British Columbia. (In the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, you can read more on Joseph Trutch, his sister Caroline’s husband, Peter O’Reilly, and his brother John’s wife, Zoe’s brother, Anthony Musgrave.) Beyond their local colonial power in British Columbia, the Trutches were another of those mobile British imperial families, moving over generations between Jamaica, England and western Canada. At times, there were family members in the United States, India and the Sudan too.
In this case, my interest in the Trutches was in a series of family condolence letters sent to Joseph Trutch upon the death of his wife Julia (née Hyde). As a side tangent, I became interested in Trutch family gravesites in British Columbia and England. Julia Trutch died in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1895, while her husband Joseph died in Lydeard St. Lawrence, Somerset, in 1904. Likewise, Caroline (née Trutch) O’Reilly died in Folkestone, Kent, in 1899, while her husband Peter O’Reilly died in Victoria in 1905. Did the graves of these divided couples, I wondered, mention the loved ones buried a continent and an ocean away?
Long story short, the names of Joseph and Caroline were indeed added alongside their spouses’ names on the family grave in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria, after they died in England. (You can search Ross Bay Cemetery records here.)
I knew that I could have contacted the local burial authorities to enquire about the location of Caroline’s grave. I admit, though, that there was a kind of romance in the possibility of stumbling across it, especially because I didn’t really need to find it. However, if I had required it for my research, my first point-of-call would have been an online database called Deceased Online.
Deceased Online is an accessible and easy-to-use central database of burial and cremation records for the UK and Republic of Ireland that will be of use to family researchers of all kinds. This is one of the best collections of digital cemetery records that I have encountered – both in terms of coverage and in terms of usability. It is a well laid-out website with a useful search function, through which you can use any level of information from surname to region to date to specific burial authority.
On the downside, Deceased Online is not a complete database yet, but it continues to expand rapidly. Most of its records are from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. You can follow this page to see which burial authorities have been added so far.
For me, another significant downside is the cost. The website is free to search, but like so many genealogy databases the detailed information is not free to access. Burial authorities have provided the database with different kinds of records, which might include digitised versions of the burial or cremation registers, scanned remembrance pages, grave details (including who else is buried in that grave), photographs of the graves, and maps of exact locations. If you would like to view this kind of material, you need to register with the website and purchase credits online.
However, even if you do not pay for the additional sources, the database might be able to tell you whether an individual is buried in a specific cemetery, which will help to guide your next research steps. Caroline O’Reilly’s record is not yet included in the database, but Henry Hunter Murdoch’s (the topic of a previous blog post) is. His burial register summary informs us that he was buried 5 January 1899 in Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery. So, should I ever trek to Tunbridge Wells to look for Murdoch, I’ll at least know where to look this time.
– Laura Ishiguro