Tracking down my ancestors’ graves

Yesterday I went on an adventure to three cemeteries in Melbourne, to track down the graves of my ancestors. I was able to find the three graves I was searching for at the Melbourne General Cemetery, Boroondara Cemetery in Kew, and Box Hill Cemetery. It was a very rewarding experiences, making my ancestors seem more real and adding a new layer of depth to my family tree with the photos I’ve taken.

I started at the Melbourne General Cemetery where the families of William and Daniel O’Connell are buried. Ron and I made our way through a heavy, squeaky old gate, and at that point I almost expected us to get trapped. Fortunately we made it through!

Gate to Melbourne General Cemetery
Old pedestrian gate to Melbourne General Cemetery

Once on the inside, we needed to work out where to go. The cemetery had previously provided me with a report giving the plot number of their grave, but what I hadn’t planned on was the sheer size of the cemetery! We jumped on their website and pulled up a map, fortunately finding ourselves in the right area – Roman Catholic, Section Q. However, there is row upon row of graves in Section Q. After 10 minutes of aimless wandering I tried calling the cemetery for advice. Unfortunately Saturday is the one day of the week they’re not open, and I was diverted to the Springvale cemetery. The lady there tried to help, but wasn’t able to access a more detailed map than what I already had on the website. She suggested I call back the following day to speak with someone from the Melbourne cemetery.

We decided to push on a bit longer, being more methodical in our search going one row at a time and reading the names on each tombstone. My concern was that the tombstone may have been destroyed, or the text might no longer be legible. After another 10 minutes, on the verge of giving up and returning when the office would be open, Ron spotted it!

Grave of the families of William and Daniel O'Connell
Grave of the families of William and Daniel O’Connell

It was quite an impressive tombstone, about the same height as me, spread over a double plot. It looked like the fence had previously covered the front as well, but this is now missing. This was a particularly exciting find, because it revealed new information about this part of my family tree! The cemetery had provided a list of four names buried in this plot, however there are five names listed on the tombstone. I’ve managed to get an exact date for the death of Charles O’Connell, and learned that William had a brother called Daniel, who had a wife named Mary.  Daniel and Mary had a daughter named Agnes, who is buried in this grave. Daniel, Mary and Agnes are all new to me.

What I’m slightly confused by is that the cemetery record showed that William’s sons, William and Daniel, are also buried in this location however their details do not appear on the tombstone. The death dates in the cemetery record align with what I’ve found in the Victorian death records which suggests to me the these people are buried in the cemetery, however these two individuals are definitely not on the tombstone. My thoughts at this stage are that their names may have worn off (the lower part of the engraving hasn’t survived very well in the weather); a second plaque or tombstone was added to the plot when they were buried, and it is no longer here; or there is another plot in the cemetery where they are buried. I’m going to call the cemetery when they’re open tomorrow and see if they’re able to shed any light on what might have happened.

After a successful first stop, Ron went home and I continued on to the Boroondara Cemetery in Kew. It is here that Thomas, Clara and Sylvia Williams are buried. Initially I was impressed by the Boroondara Cemetery. I had the plot number from their website, but inside the main gate was a touch screen map which showed me where to find the section I needed. However, as I walked through the cemetery and found the area where my ancestors are buried, I was disappointed to see it in a state of disrepair with a number of damaged tombstones, dead grass and overgrown weeds and bushes.

The Boroondara Cemetery in Kew
The Boroondara Cemetery in Kew

Navigating this cemetery was quite easy, because there were numbered markers on most of the graves. I was able to locate their grave in the Wesleyan area of the cemetery, and was pleased to see their grave was in quite a good state.

Grave of Thomas, Clara and Sylvia Williams
Grave of Thomas, Clara and Sylvia Williams

My final stop for the day was the Box Hill Cemetery, where Henry and Catherine Carver were buried in 1952. The cemetery website showed me exactly where their grave was located, and the grounds here were much better maintained than Kew. The rows were numbered, and it was also quite easy to locate this grave.

Grave of Henry and Catherine Carver
Grave of Henry and Catherine Carver

I have found relatives buried in Fawkner and Springvale cemeteries as well, so I’ll be visiting those cemeteries shortly. It was well worth the effort of visiting these graves, helping to provide some substance to ancestors who were previously only names on paper. The photos are also a great addition to my research, and have helped spur me on.

Posted from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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3 Comments on "Tracking down my ancestors’ graves"

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alex daw
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Three cemeteries in one day – you did well! I’m usually flat out doing just one 🙂

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[…] my visit to the Melbourne General Cemetery just after Christmas, I returned on New Year’s Day when the office was open. When I first visited, I had a copy of […]

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