PORT MAITLAND - The “dead tell no tales” adage isn’t exactly true at three centuries-old cemeteries in Port Maitland.
Bill Curry uses his phone to scan the QR code on a brick in front of Theophilus Crosby’s headstone (b.1798 –d.1847) at the Founders Cemetery.
There’s a beep and the screen fills with a webpage dedicated to information about the interred.
Theophilus’s family came to Nova Scotia before 1762. He and his two brothers Lemuel and James settled upon a high ridge of land north of Session Hill in Yarmouth County, on the western side of Lake Hebron, now called Lakeside. Research shows they probably remained there for the rest of their lives, “cultivating productive farms and rearing fine families.”
The QR codes are a new addition to the Old Stones project – a groundbreaking endeavour that began with the reclamation of the Founders Cemetery, the Free Will Baptist Cemetery and the Calvinist Baptist Cemetery.
The project began in 1999 with the formation of the Old Beaver River/Port Maitland Cemeteries Preservation Society, under the leadership of the Rev. Ulric Dawson. The society’s reclamation project has since been renamed Old Stones.
A small group of hard-working souls cut and pushed their way through brambles and bushes, hauling away decades of tangled growth and recovering fallen grave markers. The properties are now mowed and maintained, with QR codes for close to 200 graves.
Curry says the fact that there is a QR code for every single person is somewhat unique. “I’m not aware of any other cemetery that’s done that,” he says.
“If you go to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington they’ve got some QR codes around the cemetery for famous people, but we have it for every single person,” he says.
Curry joined the group in 2002 and became outreach/PR chair in 2009. He’s been chair of the society since 2011. His background as a technology integration consultant helped the project progress, with the development of a webpage, QR codes and Facebook page.
Of the 200 interred in the three cemeteries, he is related to 187 of them, albeit many distantly.
Close to 70 per cent of those buried are descendants of the pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. They are represented with a mayflower symbol next to their name.
Curry predicts there will be tremendous interest in the Old Stones project in 2020, the 400th-anniversary celebration of the Mayflower’s voyage. Many visitors can likely trace their heritage in these three cemeteries.
“If they’re a Mayflower descendant, we take them right back to the Mayflower and tell people where they come from,” says Curry.
The Old Stones website has already had over 100,000 hits.
BACK IN THE DAY
In the 1890s the three cemeteries fell out of use as the three churches connected to them eventually ceased to exist.
Some of the stones and occasionally remains were removed from the original cemeteries to one that was established later. Locally it’s referred to as the Island Cemetery, although officially it's the Port Maitland and Beaver River Cemetery. This was done to keep the deceased with family members who died afterwards. The last known removal was in 1924 and work continues to documents others.
Curry and George Snow meet every Wednesday to go over information pertaining to the “removals.” Eventually all of the relocated bodies will have their own webpages as well.
The cemeteries, located on Highway 1 in Beaver River and Port Maitland, have been designated as registered heritage properties and are part of the Nova Scotia Historic Places Initiative.
Curry speaks for all of those involved in the project.
“It’s lots of work, but very rewarding as we restore, preserve and perpetuate the memories of our ancestors.”
A Port Maitland Heritage Day is held annually with a barbecue and large auction of donated items. The event serves as a fundraiser for the society to help keep the properties mowed, for signage, to buy materials to make sandboxes for cracked headstones and other needs.
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