Effie Margaret Jessie Moore, 1879-1880, St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136638116. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.
As genealogists, we spend some of our research time schlepping about in cemeteries, looking for hard-to-find headstones. Last month, Cliff Carson spent part of his time to find a cemetery where some of his ancestors are buried. He was looking for St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery in Aylwin Township in Quebec’s Outaouais Region in the Gatineau Hills in the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains. It is an Anglican cemetery.
After much searching, Cliff learned the name Wilderness was an appropriate one.
Cliff is a friend of mine. We have known each other for many years when we worked for the same company. He worked in marketing and I worked in public affairs. We first met when he needed someone to make a business presentation for him, and I was assigned the task. He became what we called an internal client of mine.
It was only many years later, after Cliff left the company, that I learned we share a strong interest in family history. We recently re-connected when he sent a message through the Find A Grave website, asking me to transfer a couple of memorials to him.
Cliff has written several books about his family history. His latest project about his fourth great-grandparents, John Baird (c1760) and Eliza Kilgore (c1765) from County Kilgore, Ireland, sent him to the Gatineau Hills just north of Ottawa to look for headstones.
While John and Eliza never immigrated to Canada, at least six of their children did — and it appears they were a fertile lot. So far, Cliff has identified more than 4,500 of their descendants and spouses.
Cliff told me in an email message that his book about John and Eliza was getting too big. “So, I decided not to include copies of most death notices/obituaries/grave marker photos and put them online through Find A Grave and simply refer to the Memorial # as a footnote in the book.”
Wandering in the wilderness
And that is where Cliff’s adventure in the wilderness began. He knew some of his ancestors were buried in a small cemetery, called St. John’s in the Wilderness.
Cliff wrote, “I had a few relatives who I knew to be buried there but I could not find out exactly where the cemetery was located. Some on-line references said it was in Aylwin, Quebec.” He and his wife had found two cemeteries they were looking for, St. Andrew’s United Church in Aylwin and Hillcrest Cemetery just outside Aylwin.
But no St. John’s in the Wilderness.
John James McEwan Marks, 1859-1869, St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery, Aylwin, Quebec, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136637833. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.
Frustrated, but unwilling to give up, Cliff approached an elderly woman who was walking with her grandchildren on the road near St. Andrew’s. She had never heard of St. John’s in the Wilderness, but did know of a small cemetery nearby that could be the one they were looking for.
Despite the woman’s detailed directions, Cliff was still unable to find the cemetery. Remaining where he was, he called a fellow genealogist in Ottawa who had also tried to find St. John’s without success.Combining the elderly woman’s directions with the genealogist’s internet skills, they figured out where the cemetery must be.
St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery is at the end of a cul-de-sac called Chemin Lebeau and is literally in the wilderness. The cemetery is situated in the Gatineau Hills about a 45-minute drive north of Ottawa on Highway 105. The cut-off from Highway 105 is Chemin de Mulligan Ferry, just north of Aylwin, a very small village not shown on most maps, and south of Gracefield. Chemin de Mulligan leads you to Chemin Lebeau. (Thanks to Cliff, Find A Grave now includes a map and GPS coordinates.)
It was indeed a small cemetery. Whenever Cliff visits a cemetery that has less than 100 markers, he tends to take photos of all the markers he finds and then posts them online on Find A Grave. This is what he did in St. John’s. Like many Find A Grave volunteers, he also added information about the cemetery.
This brass plaque at St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery in Aylwin, Quebec, documents the history of the Anglican congregation. Find A Grave. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.
This is what he transcribed from a brass plaque: “This area was settled around 1854. The congregation of Aylwin was formed shortly thereafter and a church built on this site in 1864. This building was deconsecrated in October 30th, 1960, and moved from this site to the Village of St. Agathe, Quebec, in November 1972. The present Anglican churches in this area are daughter churches of St. John.”
After taking photos of the grave markers in St. John’s and returning home, Cliff started to research some of the names, even those who are not his relatives. This research helped him decipher some of the harder-to-read stones.
He found a map of the cemetery and a list of interments in Alexa Pritchard’s book, Celebrating 150 Years of Aylwin Township. Although he has corresponded with Ms. Pritchard several times over the years and has often referred to her book, he had not seen the map. To validate the information contained in the map, he asked her where it came from. She told him a lifelong friend had rescued the map from St. John’s in the Wilderness Church before it was moved to Sainte-Agathe to become part of a pioneer village. It was at that point he decided to add the names of all those who are interred there, whether or not there was a grave marker, to Find A Grave.
Joseph Gainford, 1882-1896, Son of James Gainford and Margaret Jane Carr, St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery, Aylwin, Quebec, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136635911. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.
At the end of his email message to me, he explained why he photographs and uploads images to Find A Grave: “I love it when I find a cemetery or records which are not readily available and am able to make them available on-line for others to refer to in their research.”
Cliff is a regular contributor to Find A Grave and has posted photos taken in 96 cemeteries, including Montreal’s Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and Mount Royal cemeteries.
You can look at Cliff’s work on Find A Grave in St. John’s in the Wilderness Anglican Cemetery.