Graves bring peace to the living
Alison Glass has photographed more than 21,000 graves in an effort to help families
By: Susan Jones
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 12, 2012 06:00 am
Retired bus driver Alison Glass has grave concerns. Not because she is in mourning and not because of health issues, but because her hobby is taking photos of dead peoples’ final resting places.
Ask her about it and Glass is apt to laugh at herself with a slightly macabre sense of humour, but the truth is her research and photos have helped many people locate their loved-one’s graves. And for Glass it’s a numbers game that she takes pride in tallying.
“I could stay home and grow roses but roses won’t benefit anybody. Pictures of gravestones might help someone somewhere,” she said.
As of last week Glass had contributed 52,427 memorials to the www.findagrave.com website. Those contributions alone mean that anyone who searches that website for a grave might find the deceased person’s name if the burial was in one of the 106 cemeteries that Glass has visited in the Canadian Prairies as well as in England. On average she records 192 memorials per week.
So far Glass shot 21,733 photos in those various graveyards and last week alone she took 40 photos in the Edmonton Municipal Cemetery.
“Alison has done a fabulous thing and helped a lot of people who are trying to find their ancestors and don’t know where they died,” said her friend Neila Davidson, who often goes out with Glass to help her on her photo shoots.
“It helps if she has someone there to brush off the tombstones or to go ahead and check the graves,” Davidson said, adding that in an odd way, finding a grave gives life to the deceased person.
“Especially if it’s a family member, finding their grave makes that person real. Finding their tombstone gives life to that person and you feel connected somehow,” she said.
Glass is one of some 800,000 contributors worldwide who hunts for graves and list them on the findagrave.com website, though she herself knows of only four similar researchers in the Edmonton area. The site reports that it has 86 million graves posted.
Jim Tipton, an American from Salt Lake City, whose hobby was hunting for famous people’s graves, started the site in 1995. At the time, he couldn’t find a website that could help him with his searches.
Soon the site became a tool for the everyday man as it became a virtual cemetery where loved ones could visit graves and leave virtual flowers even though they might live on the other side of the world. The site records 70,000 hits a day.
The photos that volunteers such as Glass contribute are just one more service available for anyone searching for family history.
“Gravestones may contain content that includes pictures, biographies, spouses and even children’s names. For example it may say that so and so’s beloved son died in the First World War,” Glass said.
Glass got involved in the pursuit five years ago when she was searching for the Ontario grave of a family ancestor. Now she enjoys helping others do family research.
Glass lists her name “Alison” on the site and often gets requests from researchers, who ask her to find a person’s grave and to take a photo of it.
One young man sent a request from Germany and asked Glass if she could find his father’s grave. The man explained that as a small boy he attended his father’s funeral in Edmonton but didn’t know any more details.
“He had created a memorial page for his dad on findagrave.com and I saw the grave was at Beechmount Cemetery in Edmonton. I knew his father was in the veterans’ section, but all the son knew was that the grave was near a Canadian flag and a chain link fence,” Glass said.
Much of her work is in her living room where she sits with cemetery maps and two computers. The veterans’ section at Beechmount has more than 1,300 graves adding a needle-in-a-haystack component to the search.
Burial information is listed on the cemetery’s database but only for those interred within the past 25 years. Burial information can only be given to relatives.
It took Glass a bit of detective work with the maps and her own legwork to locate the man’s grave.
“If you’re not family they won’t give you the plot number but I saw a gap on the map and guessed it was the chain link fence that the son referred to. I went there and was able to take a photo of his father’s grave for him and he was very grateful,” said Glass who takes special care to record as many veterans’ graves as she can.
“I also look for and record the graves for members of the Northwest Mounted Police and the Mounties. I’m trying to find all the deceased NWMP.”
In another search she was able to help a family find their grandmother’s grave in Lloydminster.
“She had a unique family name and that made it easier to trace her family history,” said Glass who found the grave and from there was able to trace back and find the woman had been married twice and had children from both marriages.
“The family here didn’t know about the other children because they were sent to care-homes after her first husband died. I found their names in the 1916 census records. Now, all those years later, if they wished, the family could share history,” Glass said.
Glass has recorded all the graves located in St. Albert Roman Catholic Cemetery and her current project is to record memorial information on the thousands of graves at Edmonton’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
The oldest headstone she has located in Alberta is in the Edmonton Municipal Cemetery. It’s dated 1885. Since she is from England, she has visited several centuries-old cemeteries there where she recorded as much information as she could.
The research is an ongoing, fascinating puzzle for Glass, but she acknowledged that some people might not want to see their family information listed online.
“I’ve found graves of murderers. If someone asks me to remove a registration or photo, I will remove it without asking for any explanation or information. And once his name is removed, he’s really gone. He’s dead,” Glass said.
As she walks through St. Albert Cemetery, Glass stops and visits here and there. Because she lived here for so many years and drove a city transit bus, many names are familiar to her. Still questions arise, especially when she finds one grave for two people, but the obvious signs of just one interment.
“It saddens me when I see a marker with two names. Both were born in the 1880s but one spouse doesn’t have a death date. Where are they?” she asked.
As for herself, she doesn’t envision any photos will be taken one day of her own grave. For her, visiting graves is a lively hobby that provides exercise and tranquility and she doesn’t obsess about her own end.
“I know it’s a contradiction but I don’t need a grave. I’ve already told my kids to throw me in the fire and have a party,” Glass said.
At the same time, she is passionate about recording the history from as many graves as she can.
“No one should be forgotten,” she said.