There are many history lessons that await, etched in stone and buried in the soils of every cemetery.
The Old Tremont Cemetery near Greenwood is no exception.
Upon entering the timeworn resting place, the names of local historical figures are recognizable on some of the weathered gravestones, including Charles Tupper the first, father of Sir Charles Tupper of Confederation fame, and Deacon Calvin Baker, who is credited with donating the original land for the church and cemetery in Tremont.
Sometimes, however, names can slip through the cracks, and through neglect, legacies are quietly lost in the sands of time.
Pam Muise, caretaker and tender to the Old Tremont Cemetery in Tremont, considers this to be unconscionable.
She doesn’t want to see anyone forgotten.
Muise is at the helm of an initiative to preserve and restore the sanctity of the burial ground.
FOR THE SICK AND POOR
Muise is particularly interested in a conspicuously empty lot, located amid a tiered landscape heavy with head and footstones of varying size.
On an old map, the 12 x 35-foot space is marked as “for the poor and sick people.”
With nothing to mark the graves and no record beyond a vaguely-named scrawling on a map, that lot is something of an old-world mystery.
It’s a mystery Muise intends to use a decidedly new-world approach to solve.
Recently, the Garrison Graveyard in Annapolis Royal was analyzed with the aid of a ground penetrating radar (GPR).
Muise and the members of the Tremont Community Cemetery Society (TCCS) saw an opportunity, and arranged with Boreas Heritage, the company that conducted the survey in Annapolis Royal, to perform a similar inspection at the Old Tremont Ceremony.
“While we may never know who is buried there, by knowing if there are any burials there, we can at least acknowledge them,” Muise said.
That survey will be conducted July 19.
Whatever is found once the Boreas Heritage’s GPR fires its powerful rays into the soil will be disclosed to the public at the annual Cemetery Service and Graveyard Tour Sept. 15.
“They’ll be unknown, and we won’t know who they are. Maybe in future generations some technology will be developed through DNA that we can equate them with a particular family line – or maybe some obituaries or records will surface, but right now it’s just about acknowledging that there’s somebody there.”
SAVING LOCAL HISTORY
In an email to Kings County News, Muise explained the cemetery’s significance to the community of Tremont.
The land, adjacent church building, and hall were sold by the former Baptist Church, so it could relocate and build a smaller, more modern building in a neighbouring village.
The church retained control and responsibility for upkeep of both its old and new cemeteries, in Tremont and its new location.
“Then in early 2013, they walked away from the cemeteries,” Muise wrote. “Community members were very upset as these grounds are considered sacred, being the final resting places of family and friends, which they had entrusted to the church.”
In the vacuum the church left, a community group arose. Sixty people from the community signed up, and together they take care of the cemeteries, under a collective mandate to “reclaim and preserve our past, to share with our future,” she said.
“We are dedicated to maintaining as accurate record as we can for the purposes of sharing genealogical information and to keep our history alive.”
The Tremont Community Cemetery Society has access to the assets associated with the graveyards and has been working to improve both the new and old cemeteries.
Among the records the society obtained for both cemeteries was a paucity of information on who was buried in the Old Tremont Cemetery.
Muise and the other members of the society were, in her own words, “dismayed” at finding fewer than 30 written records for a cemetery where as many as 500 people could be buried.
“Understandably, the original church burned in 1871, and most early records would have been lost, (but) the record keeping from that point on was not great either,” she wrote.
The only true record, she contended, was carved into the headstones in the graveyard itself.
“Much worse, the attitude of the trustees was that it was not their responsibility to keep the records.”
This would not do for a designated heritage site, Muise decided.
“We’ve replaced the gates and fencing, repaired broken headstones and re-erected fallen ones, and we have been able to relocate the discarded ones back to their original family lots, all while maintaining the grounds of both cemeteries on a volunteer basis.”
When her work began, Muise and fellow society members found a small collection of broken headstones and footstones discarded in the northwest corner of the cemetery.
“I don’t know what possessed them to physically remove them from their lots,” Muise said. “There was a total of nine stones over there, so the first couple of years we went through a process to try and identify where they came from.”
That process usually entailed searching around the old cemetery, finding pieces of old head and footstones.
To help start putting names to graves, Muise went to the Kings County Museum, collecting names from an old hand-drawn map made in 1980, identifying many of the families in the cemetery.
With a local genealogist’s help, they matched obituaries to headstones, doing the best they can to restore incomplete records.
“However, knowing how many burials there are in the New Tremont Cemetery who don’t have a headstone, we can only guess how many may be in the Old Tremont Cemetery,” Muise said.
Sometimes it almost seems as if the spirits of the fallen lend her aid themselves.
One such time, Muise said she went searching around the graveyard for the headstone of 1800s-area resident Olivia Marshall.
“We had two distinct family lots for the Marshalls, and a couple of stones matched up, so I put her stone on that lot, said a little prayer that I put it in the right spot,” Muise said. “As I walked away, I noticed a bare spot on the ground like a footstone.”
The stone she dug up from that bare spot turned out to be the tombstone for Israel Marshall, Olivia’s brother.
“So, I knew she was in the right spot.”
It is through those strange moments of spontaneous serendipity and the knowledge that she’s doing good deeds for people who’ve long been forgotten by most that Muise finds a kind of solace.
“It’s very satisfying once you start to see things come together and the dots connect.”