New Brunswick

Maugerville family wants ancestors' headstones back after finding them in an unlikely place

A Maugerville man hopes he has finally persuaded officials at Kings Landing to return his ancestors' headstones to the family cemetery.

Lloyd Dutcher has spent years trying to have headstones returned to his family's cemetery

Members of the Dutcher family were surprised when they went to start restoration work on the family's 19th century graveyard and discovered the headstones were gone. (Submitted by Lloyd Dutcher)

As a child, Lloyd Dutcher spent his time exploring the fields and forests of Maugerville that included the small cemetery where his ancestors were buried.

The cemetery is considerably overgrown now. But buried under the unkempt brush are the sprawling 200-year-old branches of the Dutcher family tree.

"Elijah Miles was buried there in 1802," said Dutcher,  going through a mental list of family interred there. "My grandfather, Nathan Day, he was a sheriff in Sunbury County."

He's able to pinpoint John Dutcher as the first ancestor in the area bearing his last name, buried in the family cemetery after drowning in the St. John River in 1805.

The farm property the cemetery sits on has changed hands a few times in the decades since Dutcher played there as a child and the plot has fallen into disrepair. Dutcher now lives about 10 kilometres away.

Maugerville man finds family gravestones in the most unlikely place

1 year ago
Duration 2:35
Lloyd Dutcher says his plans to restore a family graveyard in Maugerville hit a snag when he realized someone took all the gravestones. 2:35

Three years ago, Dutcher and his family vowed to restore it back to a proper Loyalist cemetery. They planned to install fencing, make pathways and cut back the decades of creeping brush. 

But when they started to comb through the underbrush to pinpoint the exact location of each gravesite, they couldn't find them. All of the headstones were gone. .

"There's nothing left here," said Dutcher. 

Dutcher says he's been hoping to have his family's headstones to mark where his ancestors are actually buried in Maugerville. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

He asked around the community to see if anyone knew what had happened to the gravestones inscribed with his family's surnames of Dutcher, Miles, and Day. 

It turns out someone did. 

Lloyd Dutcher stands in the plot of land where his great-grandparents and other ansectors are buried. He says he and his family have long planned to restore the cemetery, but getting the headstones back is a major roadblock. (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

Sandra Day, a lifelong resident of Maugerville, is related to Lloyd Dutcher. 

"His mother and my mother were first cousins, I don't know what you'd want to call that," laughs Day.

But she does know that their common ancestors are buried in that cemetery. She also remembers the headstones displaying her family name when she was a child.

She said years ago another distant relative took the gravestones out of the cemetery.

"From what I was told they sat in a barn for a long while," said Day.

"They thought they were maybe doing a good thing in preserving them," said Dutcher.

That was 15 to 20 years ago.

Dutcher has since tracked the five missing headstones to an unlikely spot, 40 kilometres away — on display at the Kings Landing Historical Settlement. 

Lloyd Dutcher was able to locate his family's missing headstones, 40 kilometres away near a church at the Kings Landing Historical Settlement. Dutcher took this photo earlier this fall. (Submitted by Lloyd Dutcher)

Day and Dutcher don't know how they got there for certain, but they believe it was this well-intentioned relative who may have gifted the headstones to a Kings Landing employee scouting for historical artifacts. 

"He was getting ready to move," Dutcher said, "A curator was down looking at old furniture and stuff and said, 'What about those headstones?' and he said 'Take them if you want.' So that's how they got up there." 

"They should never have been taken," said Day. "And they shouldn't be in Kings Landing, they should be in Maugerville."

Kings Landing is a recreated historical village that treats tourists to what life was like for settlers in New Brunswick 200 years ago. 

Dutcher said he doubts those stones mark real grave sites in Kings Landing. But he said, if they do,  they're certainly not his relatives.

He said he's spent three years trying to get them back. 

What goes to Kings Landing...

Dutcher claims he has repeatedly asked staff to return the gravestones.

"The answer I got was "Anything that goes to Kings Landing stays at Kings Landing, and never leaves,'" said Dutcher.

The sawmill at Kings Landing Historical Settlement. (Jordan Gill/CBC)

But with a new head at the tourist attraction, Dutcher may have found some hope. 

"I can't speak to anything that happened before Jan. 27, 2020," said Mary Baruth, the historical settlement's new chief executive officer. 

Baruth said she only became aware of Dutcher's request recently, when he called Kings Landing two weeks ago trying to get the stones back.  

She said if Dutcher's claims are true, the headstones could be returned. 

"I told him I would have our collections manager look at it," said Baruth. "She's looking at it and she's found the donation form and we're just trying to find the trail back." 

She said they're trying to determine if the stones are replicas or replacements for the original headstones. 

"If these belong in the cemetery, and they are not replacement ones, and that we gained them in a way that was not above board, certainly, we would want to repatriate them," said Baruth. 

Lloyd Dutcher says five gravestones belong in his family's cemetery, marking his ancestors graves, instead of being on display at Kings Landing. (Submitted by Lloyd Dutcher)

Family first

Generally, it's often family that are considered to be the legal owners of the stones, according to The Association of New Brunswick Cemeteries.

"The person who purchases it, owns it," said Valerie Traer, the president of the association.

That ownership responsibility usually falls to surviving family members who are often responsible for upkeep and maintenance of the stones.

"These do get passed on from generation to generation," said Traer.

But Traer said her association only represents community or privately owned cemeteries, and that cases involving family cemeteries can become tricky. She said New Brunswick is one of the few provinces that still allows for family– owned cemeteries.

But Traer does advocate keeping cemeteries as intact and as maintained as possible.

"The cemetery is the history of the community," said Traer.

She said the second most common reason for people to visit New Brunswick, following tourism, is to look for their ancestors.

"So what better reason to take care of our cemeteries," said Traer.

Hopeful for return

Dutcher said the ownership of the land has never been in dispute.  

But now he's hopeful the research efforts by officials at Kings Landing will prove the headstones belong to his family, and the stones will once again mark where his ancestors are buried.

"That's the idea of having a headstone," said Dutcher.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story indicated that the owners of the property where the graveyard is located had given prior approval for its restoration. In fact, they have not given permission.
    Nov 19, 2020 6:03 PM AT

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shane Fowler

Reporter

Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.

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