Nova Scotia

Long-lost tombstone found by intrepid Annapolis Valley explorer

A tombstone lost for half a century has been uncovered, thanks to the sleuthing of an explorer in the Annapolis Valley, N.S.

Mary Crane and Henry Charlton's gravestone forgotten for half a century

Steve Skafte pauses for a moment after discovering the lost tombstone this spring. (Submitted by Steve Skafte)

A tombstone lost for half a century has been uncovered, thanks to the sleuthing of an explorer in the Annapolis Valley, N.S.

Mary Crane and Henry Charlton farmed a plot of land near the Annapolis River off today's Mount Hanley Road. When they died in 1815 and 1816, they were buried at the edge of their field. 

"This would have been at the back of the family property and they might have assumed there would have been further burials, because that was also common to have a burial ground where you would have a few generations," says Steve Skafte, an author and explorer of lost and abandoned places and roads in the Annapolis Valley. 

Lost in the 1970s

But it seems only Crane and Charlton were buried on the land, and the family soon dispersed, leaving relatives today across North America and Europe. The family kept connected to the homestead, and the tombstone was last visited in the 1970s. 

But the woods have fully retaken the land and attempts to find the tombstone failed. Skafte heard about the quest, and searched for it over a two-year period.   

Christopher Bent is a fifth-generation descendent and grew up in Nova Scotia, though he now lives in Windsor, Ont. 

"They came to Nova Scotia from Massachusetts following the expulsion of the Acadians. They settled in Wilmot Township between 1762 and 1765," Bent said. 

Bent and Skafte added every grave they found to the Find a Grave website, but couldn't track down the lost tombstone. Some locals thought they knew where it was, but they weren't mobile enough to trek through the trees. 

Chance chat cracks the case

But recently Skafte's brother happened to bring it up in conversation with a person who knew exactly where to find it. Skafte followed the directions across a brook and deep into the woods alongside the river. 

Skafte saw clues in what wasn't present. "I'm typically finding you don't see a lot of rocks on the surface and that suggests they probably threw them in the river when they cleared the field."

Henry Charlton's name shows the spot of his burial. Mary Crane's name is on the other half of the stone. (Jon Tattrie/CBC)

And among the thick foliage in the rockless woods, he spotted a broken slab of stone, half-buried in the earth. He dusted it off and realized he'd found the lost tombstone for Mary Crane and Henry Charlton. 

"Steve is the one who is out there tirelessly hunting down cemeteries and cleaning them up. He does the leg work and I am immensely grateful," Bent said.

When Skafte posted about it on social media, he heard from descendents locally, in the U.S. and Denmark. 

"I think it's been pretty exciting for them. Until you see a stone, a lot of time people are uncertain about the ages of people, the exact dates that they lived or died, or even where exactly the family property was," he said.

"It's a connection for a lot of those people to be able to say, 'Oh yeah, this is where we came from,' which I think people care about now maybe more than ever."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jon Tattrie

Reporter

Jon Tattrie is a journalist and author in Nova Scotia.

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