Finding our elusive ancestors requires us to look in a great variety of records to help us build their life stories. This is especially so when the record collection is inconveniently missing or destroyed and thus we need to find some alternative records as a substitute that will enable us to find the information that we require.
TheGenealogist has a growing collection of Headstone images and transcripts on its site which are useful for providing us with valuable particulars as was written onto our ancestors’ graves. An inscription on these memorials will normally be accurate in revealing dates and names of the deceased, as well as other facts. Often family members are to be found on the same tombstone, or they may be buried close by.
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But what happens when a grave or headstone has been removed? It is at times like these that the RG 37 record set can help the family historian break down a brick wall and these records are now available to search on TheGenealogist.
The Bugler who won the VC
As an example, Robert Hawthorne VC was born in Maghera, County Londonderry in 1822. He was an Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, which he won aged 35 at the time of the Indian Mutiny. A Bugler in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot (later the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry) of the British Army it was on the 14th September 1857 that his column of soldiers was tasked with forcing an entry into Delhi through the Kashmiri Gate on its northern wall. This gate had first to be blown up and Bugler Hawthorne had been with the explosives party when an officer, Lieutenant Salkeld, of the Engineers, was dangerously wounded. Hawthorne bound up the Lieutenant’s wounds under a heavy musketry fire and then managed to have him removed without further injury. For this action, Robert Hawthorne received the Victoria Cross.
As a VC recipient, Robert was able to claim a pension from the Royal Hospital Chelsea and the record of this grant is to be found in TheGenealogist’s military records.
Some years later when Robert died in Manchester, England on the 2nd February 1879, he was laid to rest in a grave in the Ardwick Cemetery. Unfortunately, this plot is unmarked today since all the headstones in this cemetery were removed in the 1950s and a sports field makes use of the former burial ground today. This we can see clearly by consulting the Map Explorer™ on TheGenealogist and switching from the old map to a georeferenced modern Bing satellite map.
Finding Robert Hawthorne in the RG 37 records
A search of the Deaths and Burials records on TheGenealogist for Robert Hawthorne will return two results in the Headstone sub-category. The first provides a link to view the RG37 page that lists the graves around Robert’s and reveals plot numbers, names of the interned, date of birth or age at death, the date of their death and relevant particulars where applicable.
The second result is for a link to an image of the page in which the inscription of the removed headstone has been transcribed, thus recording the lost details. This gives us the names of his wife and children as they were also commemorated on the tombstone. Presumably they are all buried in the same grave in the former Ardwick Cemetery.
Details lost and now found
Some of these records can provide us with information about status or their occupation. For example in St Michael and All Angels Churchyard, Middlewich, Cheshire we can find William Bull, “Wine Merchant of this parish” who died relatively young when aged 46 in 1813 followed by his mother, Margaretta in December of the same year at the respectable age of 73. Meanwhile his father, also named William lived to be 93 being buried in 1826!
In Glamorganshire, Wales we have the unusual inscription that explains that the deceased had changed his name by Royal Licence in order to comply with his grandfather’s will and inherit the latter’s estate. In the RG 37 records for St Margaret’s Churchyard, Waterloo Road, Roath we read that the white marble spire that stood over William Powell Bennett’s grave and which was being removed, carried the inscription: “In memory of Lt. Col, William Powell Bennett R A., Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honor. (Only son of the late Reverend Edward Windsor Richards, Rector of St Andrews in this County) who in 1867 assumed the surname of Bennett by Royal Licence in compliance with the will of his maternal grandfather John Bennet Esq. of Laleston House; he died May 1st, 1870, aged 42 years.”
As we have seen here, RG 37 records can be a treasure trove of information that was extracted from the monumental inscriptions on ancestors’ graves at the time that the tombstone or the grave was being removed. Rather than being lost completely for family researchers to use, these records can provide us with details of headstones from across England and Wales that are no longer standing but which were recorded before they went for good.