Government Exposes Ontario Cemeteries

by E.B. Lapointe

Cemeteries - the places where we bury our dead - are a vital research tool in the world of genealogy. Burial grounds are a place where we can discover the names of the deceased, the date they were born, and the day they died. Sometimes, the headstone or tombstone can also tell us where they were born, or their relationship to other family members. For example, a husband and wife are buried together, and they are both represented on the headstone.

In December, 2004, the Ontario Legislative Assembly passed Bill 60, with amendments to the Ontario Heritage Act, changing its name from the Ontario Heritage Foundation to the Ontario Heritage Trust. But, as many genealogical societies noted, the amended act does not mention nor recommend coverage of the provinces as heritage cemeteries. They are not covered in this new legislation, and the government has let these cemeteries continue to be exposed to nature by not demanding that they be located and transcribed and protected from such human activities as vandalism.

Cemeteries are owned either by churches, private companies, municipalities, or families. The Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) has identified over 6,000 cemeteries which have been located, and over 96% interments have been transcribed. Only 140 cemeteries are protected as heritage cemeteries.

In 1973, the OGS started the Cemetery Project to help researchers identify the location of all cemeteries in Ontario, to record all monumental transcriptions, and to deposit all records at the North York Central Branch of the Toronto Public Library, the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa, and the Archives of Ontario in Toronto.

More was needed, and in 2003, the OGS started the Ontario Cemetery Ancestor Index and the Ontario Cemetery Locator Online. This index, although early in the process, includes names taken from monumental transcriptions, cemetery records, and other identified sources. The Ontario Cemetery Locator is a directory to cemeteries in Ontario, and the goal is to have every cemetery in the province listed in the database at <>.

In 1998, the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid was started online at <> and now has over 2,000,000 people on the database. This is strictly a 'pointer' database, a finding aid to the name, the cemetery in which the person is buried, and the location of the cemetery. The society which contributed the cemetery to the database is also noted on the website. The names come from cemeteries, cairns, memorials, and cenotaphs across the province.

Transcriptions of cemeteries can be purchased from branches of the Ontario Genealogical Society from across the province. The societies have been very good at transcribing the cemeteries within their borders, and sometimes the books are published with a history of the cemetery and photos of the tombstones.

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