19 October 2009

Toronto Cemetery Records, 1826-1935

Looking for a burial in Toronto before 1935? If so there's a good chance it's recorded in one of the Toronto Trust Cemeteries, now known as the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries. At present you pretty much have to go to Toronto sources, or order a microfilm from Salt Lake City, hopefully you order the right one, to get the information.

Now, in a cooperative project between Family Search and the Toronto Branch of OGS, www.torontofamilyhistory.org/projects.html, volunteers are indexing, essentially transcribing, burial records from four major city cemeteries.

York General Burying Ground (Potters’ Field), which existed at the northwest corner of Yonge and Bloor streets from 1826 to 1855 had about 5,600 burials. OGS already has a publication for those.

The Toronto Necropolis, at 200 Winchester Street in the Cabbagetown area of Toronto, will be transcribed from 1850-1935 , about 15,000 names. This is also a cemetery for which Toronto Branch already has a publication.

Mount Pleasant is Toronto's best known cemetery. Located at 375 Mount Pleasant Road it started operation in 1876 and will be indexed to 1935.

Prospect Cemetery at 1450 St. Clair Avenue West will be indexed from the start of records in 1890 to 1935.

I spoke to Jane MacNamara, who is leading the project for Toronto Branch. The genesis was a visit she made with a Toronto group to Salt Lake City a couple of years ago when they learned about Family Search Indexing. The cemetery records were filmed by the LDS in the 1980s and the Branch felt they were records that would be unlikely to become available online without a major effort. So many people have relatives buried in Toronto, even if they didn't die there but were returned to a family plot in the city, that an indexing project would be more widely useful than to just Toronto people.

The Branch is handling registering volunteers to do transcribing, already two weeks after the project was announced 20 people are signed up, including one in England, and more are volunteering. 4000 entries have already been transcribed. Jane says that while they would be pleased to hear from all volunteers they are looking especially for people who know the districts and streets of Toronto.

Volunteers transcribe a batch (image) of a page (often a two page spread) containing a maximum 50 records and up to 30 field in each record. That may sound like a lot, but, for example, day, month, and year are three fields. The information on the original preprinted forms varies depending on the cemetery and time and the transcription form can be adjusted to suit the record.

Jane admitted she was surprised that Family Search Indexing recommended transcribing so many fields, but recognizes it will make the database more useful in the long run. She also complimented the Family Search people she's dealt with on this project -- "wonderful folks."

The project was field tested with some Toronto Branch members and it led to one modification of the transcription requirement.

Each form is transcribed twice, by two different people, and compared by computer, with Toronto Branch assuming the responsibility of resolving differences of opinion. Jane is looking to recruit some Branch volunteers to share that workload.

You don't have to be a Toronto Branch or OGS member to be a volunteer transcriber, and Jane hopes that others will come forward. Who knows, it might even get more people involved with the branch and OGS! More information at www.torontofamilyhistory.org/projects.html

The completed index and links to digital images will be freely accessible online to the general public, permanently hosted by Family Search, when the projectis complete.

If you've worked on this project don't hesitate to share your experience by posting a comment.

Congratulations to Toronto Branch, and Jane MacNamara, on this progressive initiative.

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