Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mapping a parish's past, St. John the Baptist, Miscouche

The following is on today's Journal-Pioneer website:
     John Gillis (left), Michelle Perry, Fr. Alban Arsenault and Ivan Arsenault show off the map that was made of the cemetery at St. John the Baptist Church in Miscouche over the past summer.
By Nancy MacPhee, Journal-Pioneer, Oct. 1, 2012

MISCOUCHE - It's a project Fr. Alban Arsenault believes has helped to connect residents of the community of Miscouche with their ancestors.

This past summer, with funding from the province and the hard work of a local student, a map was drawn up of the graveyard at St. John the Baptist Church.
As a result, those searching for their ancestors can now simply look at the map on display in the back of the church to find a loved one’s final resting place.
“It is about heritage and legacy, especially today,” said Arsenault, the parish priest. “I believe more and more that we need to be connected to our roots. We belong to an Island and it’s part of our history. The cemetery, there is so much history. This is to honour the deceased loved ones, our ancestors.”
Parish council committee member and long-time Miscouche resident John Gillis came up with the idea.
He, along with David Gills, Norma DesRoches, Arsenault, Ivan Blanchard and Michelle Perry, formed a committee to devise a plan on how to properly identify the hundreds of graves in the cemetery and to find money for the project.
The committee looked to Summerside resident Art Lockhart for advice. Last year, Lockhart and his wife, Miriam, took on a project in which they photographed thousands of headstones across the province, photos that are now online.
Area MLA Sonny Gallant was approached for funding and local student, Haley Perry, was hired to research each and every grave, photograph it and draw the map.
“She spent probably two weeks out in the graveyard just sitting on her chair and drawing and mapping out exactly what the graveyard looked like and what each gravestone looked like,” said Michelle, who is also Haley’s mother. “She did receive a lot of information from Art Lockhart so it was cross referencing with that to make sure the information was correct.”
Mother and daughter spent countless hours thumbing through church records in an attempt to identify those lying in unmarked graves.
By the end of the summer Haley had memorized almost the entire cemetery.
“There was a couple that came from the States and they were looking for their grandparents. He rhymed off names and she was like, ‘oh, I know where that is’. She took out the map and was showing them where they were,” said Michelle. “She really knew a lot about the graveyard after.”
Gillis said the result of Haley’s hard work is a book containing a map and key of all the marked graves, 576 in total, and reference to the 421 unmarked graves.
“There are a lot of children, a lot of infants and a lot of women that died that it just says their husband’s name,” said Michelle.
Each headstone is numbered and, in the book, there is information on the deceased.
On the map the corresponding numbered headstone is marked, which makes it easier for someone to search out their loved one’s resting place.
The photos have also been burned to DVD, which are available at the community office, the church and the Acadian Museum, for those looking to find a burial site.
Some date back almost 200 years, when the first church was built, said Arsenault.
Gillis said the initial hope was to build a website detailing the work and where the map would be available for those outside the community who were searching for a loved one’s grave but the cost was too much.
Gillis hopes neighbouring parishes follow St. John the Baptist’s lead.
An information night detailing the project is being planned. The hope is to update the map once a year.
“Now that we have the end result, it’s wonderful. It’s a relief that it is on paper. Everything is on record,” said Arsenault. “It is a treasure.”

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