Cemetery Records and Monumental Inscriptions
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
Cemetery records and monumental inscriptions are a very useful source of information for genealogists. Cemetery records document burials that have occurred in a particular cemetery, while monumental inscriptions are etched on grave markers or headstones. Although it should usually be possible to find a cemetery record corresponding to a monumental inscription, there may not always be a monumental inscription corresponding to a cemetery record. The family may not have purchased a headstone, or it may have been damaged or destroyed.
There are few early Chinese graves in Canada, due in part to the Chinese custom of burying a body twice. The first burial would be done in a shallow grave soon after death. Seven years later, the bones would be removed and placed in an urn which was then permanently placed in a family tomb. If a Chinese person died overseas, the first burial would take place in the country in which he or she died. For the second burial, the bones would be exhumed and shipped back to China. An article in the Vancouver World from October 12, 1899 (see thumbnail below), describes preparations to return large numbers of bones to China for reburial during a sacred holiday in 1900.
From the earliest days, however, some Chinese were buried and remained in Canada. Over time, considerable numbers can be found in Canadian cemeteries. For more information, see pages for specific provinces tabs above.
In British Columbia, burials occurred in both Community and Church Cemeteries used by both Chinese and non-Chinese, and in separate Chinese Cemeteries. The Chinese Cemeteries section of the Image Gallery on the Historical Chinese Language Materials in British Columbia website includes pictures of Chinese tombstones from several B.C. cemeteries.
COMMUNITY AND CHURCH CEMETERIES
Many people of Chinese origin are buried in B.C. cemeteries. These include both community cemeteries without a religious or ethnic affiliation, and those associated with churches. In addition to community and church cemeteries, which were used by individuals of various ethnic origins, there were also separate Chinese Cemeteries (below).
One of the earliest, most historic public cemeteries in B.C. is Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria. The first Chinese burial there occurred on March 18, 1873 and was simply identified as "Chinaman No. 1." About twenty other individuals were similarly identified, but many Chinese names do appear in Ross Bay records. Chinese burials at Ross Bay took place in a segregated section of the cemetery near the water, and many graves were washed away during severe storms in 1909.
Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver, opened in 1887, has many Chinese burials. It too had a separate Chinese section, in which the Chinese community built a ceremonial altar in 1902.
Records of Chinese burials can also be found at other cemeteries - religiously-affiliated and otherwise.
FINDING THE RECORDS
At the Vancouver Public Library
Vancouver Public Library owns many transcriptions of monumental inscriptions collected and published by the British Columbia Genealogical Society.
Records of burial for persons of Chinese origin have been noted in the following titles, although in some cases there are very few:
Capilano View Cemetery, 1928-1982, West Vancouver, B.C. (1991)
Ref. 929.5 C24b
Fraser Cemetery, New Westminster, B.C., 2 vol. (1993)
Ref. 929.5 F84h
Mountain View Cemetery: Index of Monumental Inscriptions (1997)
Ref. 929.5 M928h
Ocean View Cemetery Monumental Inscriptions (2002)
Ref. CD-ROM 929.5 O15h
St. Peter's Catholic Cemetery, New Westminster, B.C. (1992)
Ref. 929.5 S14h
Burial information about many Chinese people is also included in the following databases:
Ross Bay Cemetery Search
This database indexes about 29,500 burials in Ross Bay Cemetery in Victoria, from 1872-1980.
Mountain View Cemetery
Vancouver's only cemetery is located west of Fraser St, between 31st Ave and 43rd Ave. Owned and operated by the City of Vancouver since 1886, Mountain View is made up of 106 acres of land with approximately 92,000 grave sites and 145,000 interred remains. If you use an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, search cemetery records by name and zoom in on the grave site. An Android app is also being planned.
An online database of over 344,000 interments throughout B.C. is available, and includes many Chinese names:
British Columbia Cemetery Finding Aid
264 B.C. cemeteries and two in Washington State cemeteries are included in the database. A name search will generate a list of "hits", including the name of the individual, the cemetery in which he or she was, the location of the cemetery, and a reference number. The reference number indicates the name of the organization that contributed the record. An Address List is available and provides contact information that can be used to request the full transcription from the contributing organization. There is likely to be a small fee.
For links to additional information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities throughout B.C., select one of the following listings from the Canadian Genealogical Project Registry
Although many people of Chinese origin have been buried in Community and Church Cemeteries (above) in British Columbia, there are also several historic Chinese cemeteries.
Harling Point (Victoria)
In 1891 the Chinese Benevolent Association in Victoria purchased a 3.5 hectare piece of land with the intention of establishing a private Chinese cemetery. However, local farmers chased mourners away at the first planned burial and they never returned.
In 1902, the Association purchased another piece of land at Harling Point and established a Chinese cemetery. The first burial took place in 1903. Over 1000 Chinese were buried there. Adjacent to the cemetery are 13 communal graves containing unmarked remains that were to have been returned to China - n keeping with Chinese custom.
The last burials occurred in 1950. The graveyard was subsequently neglected and fell into disrepair. It has since been restored and was declared a National Historic Site in 1996.
Kamloops Chinese Cemetery
A cemetery was created off Lombard Street in Kamloops for the Chinese community about the time that the city's main graveyard, Pioneer Cemetery, was established in the 1880s. The cemetery is being upgraded through a partnership between the Kamloops Chinese Cemetery Heritage Society and the City of Kamloops.
Cumberland Chinese Cemetery
Cumberland at one time had the fifth largest Chnese settlement in British Columbia. The cemetery is located on Cumberland Road, east of the town. It can still be visited, although much of it has been destroyed.
Nanaimo Chinese Cemetery
The coal company in Nanaimo, which employed many Chinese people, gave land for a Chinese burial ground on Stewart Avenue around 1890. It was in use until 1924, at which time the Chinese community contributed $2 per person for new burial grounds on Townsite Avenue. The City of Nanaimo's Heritage Register provides more information.
Other Chinese Cemeteries
In addition to the cemeteries in Victoria, Kamloops, Cumberland, and Nanaimo, there were Chinese cemeteries in Duncan, Prince George, and Vernon.
FINDING THE RECORDS
Records for B.C. Chinese cemeteries have not been transcribed or indexed. The only way to find out if a particular person was buried in one of the Chinese cemeteries is to visit the cemetery.
Grave markers may be in Chinese characters only or both Chinese and English.
Community and church cemeteries in Alberta include many Chinese burials.
There is a separate Chinese cemetery in Calgary. As of 1997, there were approximately 1048 burials in the cemetery. More information is available on the City of Calgary's Chinese Cemetery web page.
FINDING THE RECORDS
At the Vancouver Public Library
Vancouver Public Library owns two CD-ROMs comprising information on burials in Southern Alberta.
AFHS Digital Library.
Extensive collection of cemetery records in this ten volume CD-ROM set.
Most entries on the CD-ROMs provide the information seen in the following example, although the level of detail varies:
Name on monument: Wong, Bessie Information on monument: 8 Aug 1916-28 Feb 1931 Name in cemetery record: Wong, Bessie Information in cemetery record: burial: 02031931 / Plot Owner: T. Wong Location of monument: H;09;069 Year of birth and death (if known): 1916-1931 Name of cemetery: High River - Highwood Year of transcription: 1993/1994
The Alberta Family Histories Society provides an online Cemetery Search. The database comprises information about approximately 122,000 burials in about 63 Alberta cemeteries. Details provided are basic, and include the Cemetery Name, Town, Last Name, First Name, and Dates. Further details can be purchased from the AFHS. Note that in many cases, the information available from the AFHS is available on the CD-ROMs (see above).
The Alberta Genealogical Society has a computerized Master Name Index, comprising 700,000 names. The names are mainly derived from burials in Alberta cemeteries. For a small fee, the Society will do a name search and provide a report of names found. For further details, see the Society's Master Surname Database information page.
For links to additional information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities throughout Alberta, select one of the following listings from the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry:
The Saskatchewan Genealogical Society website includes a Cemetery Index page. The page provides the name and location of over 3300 cemetery and burial sites in Saskatchewan and includes a list of Cemeteries with Links.
The index can be viewed in several ways:
- Cemeteries by Rural Municipality Name
- Cemeteries by Rural Municipality Number
- Cemeteries in Rural Municipality by Community Name
- By Religion
- By Owner/Operator
- Cemeteries with Links
The final category links to a list of online cemetery databases. Although few Chinese names have been noted in these databases, there are some.
Saskatchewan Genealogical Society has collected many burial records and entered the records into a general Saskatchewan Residents Index. The Society will search the database on your behalf for a reasonable fee. For more information, see the Society's Research Services page.
An earlier card index of Saskatchewan burial records was filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, and can be borrowed from Family History Centres. For more information and film numbers, consult one of the three records from the FamilySearch Catalog for the Saskatchewan cemetery project.
For links to additional information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities throughout Saskatchewan, select one of the following listings from the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry:
Links to information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities throughout Manitoba is found in the following listings from the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry:
FINDING THE RECORDS
Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid Over 2 million burials are listed in this searchable online database. Many Chinese names are included. A name search will generate a list of "hits", including then ame of the individual, the cemetery in which they are buried, the location of the cemetery, and a reference number. The reference number indicates the name of the organization that contributed the record to the database. A list of addresses is included, which provides contact information that can be used to request a full transcription from the contributing organization. There is likely to be a small fee.
This free database, compiled by the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society comprises dozens of cemetery records from Carleton, Lanark, Leeds, Russell, Renfrew Counties, and West Quebec. Some entries are duplicated in the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid.
For links to additional information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities throughout Ontario, select one of the following listings from the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry:
For links to information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities in Quebec, check the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry's Quebec Cemetery Records listing.
This searchable database comprises records from New Brunswick cemeteries. The database is small, and the likelihood of finding a Chinese-Canadian ancestor is remote.
You can also link to information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities in New Brunswick through the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry's New Brunswick Cemetery Records listing.
For links to information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities in Nova Scotia, check the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry's Nova Scotia Cemetery Records listing.
This database comprises 221,000 records of names and dates from the headstones and monuments of Newfoundland.
For links to information regarding the availability of cemetery records corresponding to communities in Newfoundland, check the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry's Newfoundland Cemetery Records listing.
The only cemeteries in the Territories for which transcribed information has been found are Pioneer Cemetery and Grey Mountain Cemetery, both in Whitehorse. A review of the records has not identified any individuals of apparent Chinese origin.