Donation of documents helps fill gap in area death records

Amy MacKenzie
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Karen MacLeod, reference and heritage clerk, New Glasgow Library, and Nedra Wilson, secretary treasurer of Pictou County Roots Society, discuss the contents of the newly donated funeral documents that date back to the 1800s. AMY MACKENZIE – THE NEWS

NEW GLASGOW – The brown and faded documents that lay on a table at the local library have caused a buzz of excitement in the Pictou County Roots Society, which hopes to fill in the gaps of Nova Scotia’s history with these funeral home records that date back to the 1800s. 
“These approximately 15 books and plans, they’re important because the death records that are on file with the government office and the records that you can get online for the death records, there’s a large gap of 31 years,” said society member and author of Pictou County history books Clyde Macdonald. “So between 1877 and 1908, those death records aren’t available. These death records are indeed a major find and something that has excited all the members of the Pictou County Roots Society that have seen them and the library staff is just exhilarated over this donation.” 
Macdonald said the documents are the records of Ross’s Funeral Home on Donald Street in New Glasgow and contain death records, funeral arrangements and other documents from before 1880 to 1971. Ken Langille of New Glasgow donated them to the society recently and they’ve been busy ever since sifting through the information.  
“We have plans in the future coupled with the New Glasgow Library staff to index the data in all of these books and plans and scan them and hopefully in the future make them available to the public,” Macdonald said. 
Karen MacLeod, reference and heritage clerk at the New Glasgow Library, said these documents will help genealogy and history searches. Asked if she’s seen people in the library not able to find information because of a lack of death records, she said, “Absolutely.”
“It’s going to be an excellent addition because it fills holes that are in our databases.” MacLeod said. “There are certain things in (the donated documents) that we can’t find in our records. Once we have a date of death, that can lead us to a newspaper that might have had an obituary for that person that we might not have found otherwise. So there are all kinds of connections once you start digging in.” 
As Macdonald looked flipped through the documents at the library, he found a funeral receipt with the coffin, funeral arrangements, grave digging, clothing for the deceased and the hearse costing $28.50 in 1894. He also found a public advisory for the Town of New Glasgow dated Oct. 2, 1891, regarding diphtheria. 
He read one of the funeral records for the death of a child in the 1800s. 
“Here’s one example. This would be 1895, Grant Cummings McLeod was six months and sixteen days old, residing in Trenton and he died on May 22, 1896, of spinal meningitis. He was a Presbyterian and he was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Westville and it shows the minister, Reverend Grant, and it shows the time of the funeral and his father, Alex McLeod of Trenton. That’s valuable information regarding a death certificate in the gap period. Not only that, but this would be a primary source of information,” Macdonald said. 
Macdonald has spent time poring over the records and said what stands out most to him was the number of infant deaths in the late 1800s, early 1900s. 
“Some of these books, almost every second page has a death recorded of an infant or young boy or girl,” he said. 
Macdonald said the newly donated records will be very valuable to people researching their genealogy and history in Pictou County. He said the public can come in to view the records. But if they want to use them for research, “it’ll be like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” he said. But the society and New Glasgow Library will be working hard to index and scan the documents so they’ll become easier to search.

Organizations: Pictou County Roots Society, New Glasgow Library

Geographic location: NEW GLASGOW, Pictou County, Nova Scotia Donald Street Trenton Westville

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