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  • Writer's pictureColleen Murray

Written in Stone

My 2X great grandfather, David Conroy, died in Edmonton in 1939. He was reported to have been one of Edmonton’s oldest citizens, having turned 100 years old only a few months before! [1]

David’s obituary indicated that “Interment will be made in the family plot in the Edmonton Catholic cemetery”. [2] Although there are now five Catholic cemeteries in the Edmonton area, at the time the Catholic cemetery would have been St. Joachim’s, located at 10504-117 Street.

When I visited St. Joachim’s one spring day, I was pleased to locate the “family plot”, but disappointed that I could not find David’s tombstone. I contacted The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton. Their records indicated that indeed David had been buried at St. Joachim’s on the 16th of October 1939, and they gave me the plot number. I visited again to verify that I had not missed the stone, and took a photo of the space where the gravestone should have been. There was no sign of a broken stone, or any indication that there had ever been one there.

Since David died at the end of the depression, I wondered if perhaps funds did not permit the family to purchase a stone. I contacted my oldest living family member who had been a boy at David’s funeral in Edmonton. I asked him about the stone. He thought a stone might have existed at one time, but couldn’t recall for certain. He did, however, remember that David had wanted to be buried in Ontario, not Edmonton, but that the family did not comply with his wish.

David’s wife, Catherine, had died in 1928 in Peterborough, Ontario, and a few years afterwards, David moved to Edmonton where several of his children lived. He died about five years later.

Eventually, I found photos of Catherine’s tombstone in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Peterborough. [3]

As you can see, David’s name is also engraved on the tombstone, although the year of death is left off. As a result of the information on this tombstone, I found several online family trees that indicated that David had been buried in Peterborough. Although I did not have a photo of an Edmonton tombstone to counter their evidence, I had the obituary, a first hand account, and an email from the Catholic Archdiocese as evidence that he had actually been buried in Edmonton. I’ve been trying to share this information to correct family trees ever since.

I suspect that the family did not put up a tombstone in Edmonton because one already existed in Ontario. Why they did not fill in the year of death on the Ontario stone is unknown, as one of David’s children was still living in Peterborough at the time.

Not only is David’s name on his wife's tombstone misleading, his birth year of 1839 seems to be exaggerated. I have found David in eight census returns where his reported birth year ranges between 1843 and 1850. Only on his tombstone and obituary is anything as early as 1839 reported. Many stones contain errors, but in this case the tombstone error is especially surprising because David was alive at the time, and probably commissioned the carving. Since he was born prior to civil registration, and the church records do not survive for this time period, we may never know the truth.

This case is a great lesson in not believing everything you see, both in print, and carved into stone!

[1] “David Conroy, Edmonton Centenarian,” Edmonton Journal, 13 October 1939, page 17, column 5; microfilm reel 178, The Edmonton Journal 1939 Sept 1-Oct 31, The Stanley Milner Library, Edmonton, Alberta.

[2] "Mr.David Conroy," obituary, Edmonton Journal, 13 October 1939, page 24, column 1; microfilm reel 178, The Edmonton Journal 1939 Sept 1-Oct 31, The Stanley Milner Library, Edmonton, Alberta.

[3] Catherine Allen Conroy & David Conroy tombstone photograph, 2013; photo courtesy of Helen Abrams.

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