Cemetery Road Trip – Searching in Spragge

I haven’t posted a road trip story in a little bit, so today I wanted to share my adventure of finding a cemetery via railroad tracks!

It was back in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Social bubbles were very much in place and almost everything was shut down. There was not a lot to do that summer. BUT visiting cemeteries is always a viable option! My fiancé and I, and our close friends whom we had been bubbling with (that’s an odd to say), decided to go on a little adventure to try and find two cemeteries in Spragge, Ontario. 

The little town of Spragge found its beginnings in 1882 but was originally named Cook’s Mills. It was a self-sufficient town of about 350 residents all built around the sawmill. In 1895 the whole operation was sold, and the village was renamed Spragge, after the township. When the depression hit, the mill closed in 1932. That same year, there was a devastating fire that burned almost the entire village to the ground. This caused a lot of folks to leave town, although a few remained and tried to rebuild. The mill never did re-open, and now there only sit about a dozen homes within the small village limits of Spragge.1 Two cemeteries remain, the Spragge Catholic cemetery and the Spragge Protestant cemetery.

This adventure would take us a little over an hour and a half on the road to get to Spragge. Our little group made a day trip out of it. We stopped at a diner and safely had lunch outside on the patio. We asked some of the locals about the cemetery. The stories we heard were pretty interesting. We were told that the owners of the property where the cemetery sits, do not like visitors and consider them trespassers. They talked about how this causes some tension between the townsfolk who want to visit their relatives, but are barred from doing so. The community was trying to get free access to the cemeteries. We were also told that the property owner was known to brandish a shotgun! We were a little put-off by the stories, but we were determined to take a look for ourselves.

After our slightly uncomfortable lunch, we continued on our way with directions by Google Maps. We turned off the main road onto a side road and what looked like a parking area. My fiancé was completely put-off by the stories we were told, he was also not as enthusiastic about visiting the cemeteries as we were, so he waited in the car and played look-out. 

The rest of us began tentatively walking down the dirt road. When it opened up and we could see it was a driveway leading directly to a house, we decided to turn around and try a different approach. We had crossed a set of train tracks, that ran parallel with the main highway. After consulting Google Maps, it looked like we might be able to access the cemetery at a clearing just off the train tracks. We decided to try that. We chose a hot day to walk along the train tracks, but it ended up only being a short walk. On our left, a little clearing opened up which lead into the cemetery.

We had found the Spragge Protestant cemetery! We took some time to wander the grounds and look at the beautiful stones. It was a smaller cemetery and looked to be well-maintained. Not at all what we had pictured in our minds. We had been under the impression that the cemetery was abandoned and in disrepair. Some of the stones were too worn to be read, but some others were still in great condition. Some of the common cemetery symbols we found were clasped hands, obelisks, and little lambs.

After we explored a little bit, we tried to find the Spragge Catholic cemetery. According to my friend’s research, it should have been very close to where we were. We branched out a little, exploring the oddly well-kept lawn that snaked in between clumps of trees. We were nervous about getting too close to the house or going in full view of it. After a little more wandering, with no luck, we decided to turn back and reunite with my fiancé, who was patiently waiting in the car. 

We were very happy to have at least found one of the cemeteries, and we vowed to do a little more digging and return in the future to find the elusive cemetery. It was still a fun adventure, after all exploring is half the fun.

But that’s not the end of the story!

This past winter I was busy uploading photos to Find a Grave and uploaded some of my photos from Spragge. A woman reached out to me, looking for coordinates for the Spragge Catholic cemetery, as she has family there. I passed on all I knew, and let her know we were not able to find it. She had also heard about the access issues, but since she was a relative was hoping the property owner would be understanding. She later contacted me and gave me an update. She was able to locate both cemeteries and visit her family. It turns out the town of Spragge did not want the expense of maintaining the cemeteries, and a private owner requested to take it over and purchased the property. When he is not in town, he has entrusted maintenance and upkeep to another property owner in the immediate area—who also happens to have loved ones buried in the cemeteries.

I also had another person reach out about these cemeteries. They have turned out to be pretty popular locations. This time, the person who reached out was searching for the location of the Spragge Protestant cemetery. He had visited the Spragge Catholic cemetery but did not find the other. We exchanged information. I shared everything I knew about the one I had visited. In return, he shared the exact coordinates of the Spragge Catholic cemetery and the contact information of the property owners. If we had searched closer to the water’s edge when we were there, we would have found it. So close! 

I’m still a little confused about the stories that the folks at the diner told us, about the owners brandishing shotguns. From what I heard from both people who reached out, the owners seem very kind and willing to allow visitors into the cemetery. Although one had also heard about the access issues. Were there issues at one time? A misunderstanding maybe? Or maybe it was just some locals trying to scare away visitors? That mystery still remains…

Armed with all this new information, I will have to make another trip out to Spragge to visit the elusive Catholic cemetery. I love how this little adventure turned out because it showcases how interesting cemeteries can be. Cemetery mysteries are very much a part of the fun, and the fact that the cemetery community is so willing to share information and come together to solve these little mysteries is heartwarming.

Have you ever visited the cemeteries in Spragge? Do you have a cemetery mystery you would like to share? I would love to read about it in the comments. 

Thanks for reading!


References

  1. Ontario Ghost Towns – Spragge

Find a Grave Photography Tips

A little while ago, I wrote a post about Find a Grave, and how I have been more active as a contributor. I have been going through my photos and doing some photo editing as I go. It’s been a great way to use my photography to help others, creating memorials that don’t exist yet, and contributing to existing memorials.

Find a Grave is a hub of burial information, that includes photos, burial information, biographies and so much more. It’s volunteer-run, as its members claim and fulfill photo requests to aid in genealogy research, transcribing gravestone photos, and creating memorials. It’s a great resource. When receiving a photo request, you will be given all the information available; cemetery name and location, deceased’s full name, and birth and death date if known. You may also be given the location of the grave, such as the lot or section. It’s up to you to claim this request and fulfill it. I would recommend only claiming requests that you know you can fulfill. 

While looking through my photos I picked up on two very different styles of photography I have developed over the years; my personal style and my contributor style. They are both very different. One reflects what I see when visiting graveyards, and the other is the result of wanting to achieve the best photo for transcribing and reflecting what a person would see when visiting their loved one. 

I thought it might be helpful to share some tips on how to get the best photos as a volunteer photographer for Find a Grave. If you are just getting started or looking for some new ideas, here are some tips to help you get great photos:

Once you have claimed your photo request, the fun can begin! 

  • Always take a photo of the cemetery sign when you first enter. Not only can this photo be added to Find a Grave, but it will also make it much easier when looking back at your photos to determine which photos were taken in which cemetery. This is especially helpful when visiting multiple cemeteries in a day. I would also suggest taking photos of any other signs that may be at the entrance. Sometimes you can find plaques describing when the cemetery was established and its history. These are always interesting to find.
  • Visit the cemetery office, if there is one. Sometimes, they carry cemetery maps to some of the more notable graves, and also show the layout of the cemetery. This is most often the case in larger cemeteries.
  • Keep the grave information you are looking for handy, so you can refer to it easily when needed. Find a Grave now has an app that makes this super easy to do. The app is available for both Android and Apple OS. Before the app, I would take a screenshot on my phone and refer to that photo.

When you have found your stone:

  • For headstones flush to the ground, it does not hurt to brush away any debris like leaves or grass to make sure the stone is legible.
  • Take photos of the headstone face on, this makes reading the inscriptions easier. 
  • Make sure to check the back of the headstone for any additional inscriptions. This is important for obelisk stones as they often have multiple family members inscribed on each side. 
  • Take a wide-angle shot to show placement or unique features of the grave, such as footstones.
  • Take a close-up shot of ceramic portraits if they are present.

Are you excited to get out there and take some photos? Let me know if you found my tips helpful. Do you have some tips you would like to share? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Find a Grave

I have been spending more and more time on Find a Grave lately. I have been a member for years now, but just recently started being a more active member. This winter, I have been spending a lot of my free time going through my digital files and thought it would be a great opportunity to add some of them to this great website.

Find a Grave, if you are not familiar (if you are a taphophile, I’m sure it needs no explanation) is a great resource for burial information from all over the world. It’s a great tool for those looking for genealogical information, as well as those curious about famous graves. It’s filled with cemetery information, burial details, photos, biographies, and more. It’s also a great community of volunteers, all brought together by this online tool, helping others complete family tree details, sharing a hobby, but also creating an online memorial space to remember lost loved ones. 

“Find a Grave got its start in 1995 when founder Jim Tipton built a website to share his hobby of visiting the graves of famous people. He found that many people shared his interest and quickly opened the site for all individuals (famous and non-famous) with a mission for finding, recording, and presenting burial and final disposition information worldwide. Since then, millions of contributors have been entering memorials, photos, GPS locations, biographies, and other rich content to the site. As the site grew, the community grew also. Find a Grave houses the largest international graving community in the world. In 2013, Find a Grave became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ancestry® and launched a new iOS mobile app. The Android app was released in 2014. Ancestry redesigned the website and released it in August 2018. The community continues to add and update memorials every day. We look forward to an exciting future for the site and the community!” – findagrave.com

I’ve been a member for almost 8 years, and often use Find a Grave when researching road trips for famous graves to visit. As I mentioned above, I recently have started being more active on the site, uploading photos to existing memorials and creating new ones that have not yet been listed. It is also possible to take on photo requests. These are requests submitted by anyone, to photograph a specific grave. The requests include all the details that are available; like cemetery location, full name, and birth and death date if known. As a Find a Grave member you can claim these requests and take photos to fulfill them. It’s a great way to contribute. Did I mention, it’s free to become a member?

Find a Grave also has other features such as their News & Announcements page that lists new website features, tips on how to use the site to its full potential, features on volunteers of the month, and all sorts of cemetery related articles. One of my favorite little touches is the On this day feature on the main page, showcasing famous deaths. There is also a forum to connect members. It features threads on all sorts of different discussions on cemetery research, famous graves, translations, and site support among other things. They also have an online store where you can purchase a small selection of merchandise. I wish they offered a Find a Grave button or stickers. I would love a button to add to my camera bag. 

To learn more about Find a Grave or become a member, you can visit their website at www.findagrave.com, or find them on Facebook and Instagram.

Are you a contributor to Find a Grave? Feel free to share you experience in the comments.

Thanks for reading! 

Cemetery Appreciation Month

I just found out today that May is Cemetery Appreciation Month!

It’s not an official declaration by any means, but those in cemetery circles have been celebrating; and that is good enough for me! Cemeteries are often seen as taboo, so seeing them celebrated makes me very happy. 

Cemeteries are a beautiful place to visit and right now with COVID-19 ravaging the world, cemeteries are a great place to social distance as they are not often bustling with people. 

So in honour of Cemetery Appreciation Month, I have created a little bucket list for myself.

Volunteer some time to fulfill some photo requests in my area for Find A Grave.com – This is a great way to explore, take some photos and help others. Using Find a Grave, anyone can request photos of a particular grave. This is usually used in research, most commonly genealogy.

Visit a cemetery I have not visited before – This is a great opportunity to take a little road trip.

Visit my favourite local cemetery – It’s been at least a year since I have been to Eyre cemetery, here in Sudbury. This is a great opportunity to pay another visit.

Have a picnic in a cemetery – I am taking a cue from a new Instagram account I follow for this one – cemeterylunches “Promoting death positivity one meal at a time”.

Happy Cemetery Appreciation Month!