Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cemetery discovery brings history to life

Some Glengarry Connections

Cemetery discovery brings history to life

A Pembroke man uncovered the graves of three brothers, all veterans of the War of 1812, writes Zev Singer


Bernie Buechman cleared up a small family cemetery in the former Westmeath Township and found that three brothers buried there served during the War of 1812. This stone above marks the grave of William McDonald, who served at the age of 14.

Photograph by: Chris Mikula, Ottawa Citizen , Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — Bernie Buechman's hobby is uncovering history, sometimes using documentary research and sometimes using a lawnmower.
The 56-year-old Pembroke resident recently brought both skill sets to  bear when he not only restored a mostly forgotten cemetery to a respectable condition, but brought it some recognition for its historical significance.
Buechman, who works by day at the garage of the Pembroke Walmart, spends his spare time toiling in genealogy and local history, and he finds cemeteries fascinating for the stories they hold.
Through the years, he has volunteered, maintaining and researching several other graveyards.
About two years ago, he decided to hunt up an old cemetery long neglected and overgrown since the days when he rode past it as a kid on his bike.
When he re-discovered the MacDonald burial ground, about 300 metres south of Hwy. 17 on Sutherland Road in Whitewater Township - about 16 kilometres east of Pembroke, it was beyond recognition.
"You couldn't see the cemetery," Buechman says. "It was two, three feet of poison ivy, trees all over. Couldn't see the stones."
He brought a couple of saws and that lawn mower and got to work clearing decades of thick growth.
That was the straightforward part.
The tougher slogging was the detective work that started once the names on the stones became visible.
There were four tombstones, but records indicated at least seven people were likely buried there. Buechman (pronounced Beach-man) started tracking the names through census data, old newspapers and whatever other documents he could find. To his surprise, he found that among those buried there was a trio of brothers, all veterans of the War of 1812.
John, Walter and William MacDonald all survived the war and lived to be old men, all settling in the former Westmeath Township, west of Muskrat Lake.
Each claimed the 100 acres of land to which they were entitled as veterans of the war. All three served in the Glengarry Light Infantry.
Buechman still doesn't know a huge amount about John (who was born some time between 1780 and 1786 and died in 1872) or Walter (1795-1869), but he was able to track down a obituary in the Pembroke Observer for William (1798-1887).
William McDonald, it turns out, was only 14 when he joined the war effort. The obituary says that's how old he was when he drove a horse and sleigh loaded with ammunition from Montreal to Kingston. He went on to learn carpentry.
"He came to Bytown (now Ottawa)," said the obituary, "at the time work on the Rideau Canal was begun and worked as lock carpenter until the canal was completed in 1831."
He went on to lumbering and then farming. He was a father of 12 and grandfather of 68. A strict Presbyterian, he was a man of few words, the obituary said. "He always enjoyed the best health, and never believed in doctoring," it added.
Buechman was delighted with the find of the three war veterans, and when the federal government announced funding for projects to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the war, he applied to get some recognition for the brothers. He managed to win $10,000 for the project, which will include a commemorative stone and a ceremony/celebration in September. Applying for the government funding, however, made the vine clearing and even the newspaper searches seem easy, he said.
"The paperwork was incredible," says Buechman. "I almost needed to hire a lawyer to understand it. Seriously, I'd never do it again."
But he is very excited to have found the brothers and hopes to find their descendants, and those of the handful of other people whose remains are buried there, including Frank Costello, who died in 1924 at age 93, Caroline Preddy, who died in 1888, Peter Joe Pappin, 1878-1910, and possibly Roderick MacDonald, the brother of the three war veterans, and his wife, Isabella McRae.
In the meantime, Buechman says, he might try to find himself another old cemetery to rescue, since each is a new history lesson. "I'll be looking."
Added by AWF
The above stone reads in part
[In Memory of] Mary Livings[tone] wife of Wm McDonald born at Lochaber Inverness, Scotland  died Jan 2 1865 aged 65 yrs
Wm McDonald born in Glengarry Canada Apr 15 1798 died [_________] 1887