A few weeks ago I was given a vintage camera that turned out to have a film hidden inside. On developing, I found the entire roll was dedicated to pictures of an old gravesite.
Who was Edward Langan? Why had he been added to a grave with a man called James Ryan? And why (as the film dates from 1973) is the grave covered in flowers when the pictures were taken several years afer their deaths?
All these questions, and more, answered after the fold.
Outfoxed, I turned to the Liverpool & South West Lancs Genealogy Forums for help. They proved to be absolutely incredible at tracking down people through the mists of time. In a little over 24 hours, they were able to reveal Edward’s entire family history, from ancestors to living relatives! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Using the information on the tombstone to start her off, Ivy McAllister scoured the England & Wales Death Index for 1916-2005 to find that Edward Langan was estimated to be 75 years old when he died. Meanwhile, selvascura discovered a James Ryan, 78 at time of death, in the Liverpool North register. Given that the camera had been purchased from the 69A antiques shop in Liverpool, it seemed that the grave must be close to the city.
Over on the genealogy forums, Hilary’s keen eyes identified this as a Catholic cemetery, narrowing down the number of possible locations. User Jan discovered a marriage record joining Edward Lanigan [sic] to Agnes Ryan in 1923. If this was our Edward, it seemed he dropped the i from his name. Also, it would most likely make James Ryan his brother-in-law.
Jan also noted a birth to the couple the following year, a bouncing baby boy named John, and then a daughter in 1936, recorded as Norma B Lanigan. We now had everyone who appeared on the tombstone, but still no idea where it was, or who took the pictures and when.
User Colette picked up a few details of Edward’s early life. Around 1911, a twenty-year-old Edward lived with his mother Catherine and two brothers, Michael and Thomas, at 10 House 2 Court Mill St in Toxteth, Liverpool, and was working as a newspaper vendor.
Then MaryA hit the jackpot, using Hilary’s suspicion to locate the grave: Yewtree Cemetery – Section 1B plot 256. Mary also discovered the answer to the mystery of the flowers. Agnes had died in October 1977 and been laid to rest in the family plot, alongside her husband and brother. The grave had been photographed at this time, soon after the funeral but before her name had been added to the tombstone.
Or at least, that was what we suspected. We wouldn’t know for sure until I’d been to see the grave with my own eyes. Enter Reef, an old pal from my days of roofpunking and an accomplished urban explorer. The story had caught his eye and we arranged to meet up on a sunny weekend for a little adventure. Yewtree Cemetery is on Finch Lane, West Derby, a short train ride out of Liverpool city centre. (Interesting side note: nobody is sure why yew trees are associated with cemeteries, though most have one. It’s thought to be a pagan thing).
On Saturday I shook off a hideous hangover and met up with Reef and his girlfriend. We jumped off the train at Roby rail station and trekked across the worn out streets of outer Liverpool. Seems the credit crunch bit some places more than others.
And then, we arrived.
Here I look remarkably human for someone who’d drank their own weight in alcohol the night before. Consequently, I forgot to bring flowers, and was very disappointed in myself for that.
Yewtree Cemetery. Bigger than I thought. Thank goodness for Reef’s preparation, my plan was to simply turn up and wander around until I found the grave.
That looks familiar…
We found it!
And here it is, framed as closely as possible to the original image.
Things to notice – firstly, Agnes is there, as expected. The stone has shifted slightly, and acquired a lean, probably as a consequence of time and its removal to be inscribed with a new name. You can also see the tree has grown, and new tombstones have sprung up. I took some pictures with the original camera, just as someone had done before me over thirty years ago. I’ll share those images as soon as they’re developed. Thanks to Reef for taking all these pictures.
So there it was. Starting off with nothing more than a picture, I’d traced it to the original location, drawing a line that spanned three decades. I felt good, like I’d closed a chapter that had been left open for a long long time. But there was one more thing to do. Find out who owned the camera.
Edward and Agness bore two children, John and Norma, so most likely it was one of them. With nothing to go on for John, the single thread that would tie this all together was Norma. The dedicated genealogists found that she’d married local boy Stan Stirzaker in 1960, and had since emigrated to Jacksonville, Florida some time ago. She will be 74 this year. I was also given a phone number. I wrestled with that. Would she want to see pictures of her parents’ grave? Perhaps there was a good reason that the images were never developed. Was it all better left alone? After a long contemplation, I fired up Skype and dialled the number.
But that, as they say, is another story, for another day.