Friday, 22 April 2011

Book Review: A Better Place

A Better Place: death and burial in nineteenth-century Ontario
Susan Smart
Dundurn Press
ISBN 978-1-55488-899-3 (softcover) $19.99/£12.00

Over the years funeral practices have changed. Ontario pioneers might have been buried on the family farm with arrangements handled by the family with support of family and friends. With 19th century development came the adoption of commercial funeral practices with Victorian and US Civil War influences evident and increasingly larger cemeteries further removed from the community centre. The evolution is described by York Region genealogist Susan Smart in the first and major section of this book Death and Burial. You will discover the type of experienced your Ontario ancestor might have had in bereavement with care taken to differentiate between denominations, both Christian and Jewish practice. The discuss is quite comprehensive, the only missing element I noticed was any discussion of gravestone iconography.

Genealogical Implications, the much shorter second section, focuses on the types of record that may be helpful in researching Ontario death and burial. Here there is a significant omission. No mention is made of the Civil Registration death records indexed at Instead the convoluted official procedure with two indexes is described. But with Ancestry widely available, including free at almost all libraries in Ontario, why would any sane person not try the name indexed records first?

The book has charming period prologue and epilogue, a timeline, glossary, notes and a bibliography, but lacks an index. You're sure to learn something of interest from this attractively presented volume.

Note that the book I reviewed had 234 on the last numbered page, not the 208 pages mentioned in some online bookstore listings, including at Waterstones and Tesco in the UK. It's available at a discount from

In case this topic strikes you as excessively morbid, here are two items surrounding death likely to bring a smile to your face: brown boots, a Stanley Holloway monologue from the mid 20th century; and an irreverent celebration of a compatriots life in this John Cleese eulogy from 1989.

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