Ancestor Anecdotes: Where the bodies are buried


I’ve been hunting down dead relatives for a while now and I’ve found some great ones, some I never knew about, and some I wish I didn’t know about.

I’m in the process of documenting one direct line all the way back to 1028 and good old 25th great-grandfather Bill (better known as William The Conqueror, but I’m family so I don’t think he’d mind me calling him Grandpa Bill).

William The Conqueror

Henry I, King of England - Son of Grandpa Bill

Empress Matilda of England - Daughter of Henry I

Henry II, King of England (Plantagenet) - Son of Empress Matilda

John I Lackland of Plantagenet, King of England - Son of Henry II (known as ‘the worst English king’, so we don’t like to talk about Grandpa Johnny too much)

Henry III, King of England - Son of John I

Edward I, of Plantagent, King of England - Son of Henry III

Thomas Plantagent Hertog van Norfolk - Son of Edward I

Margaretha Plantagenet Hertogin van Norfolk - Daughter of Thomas Plantagenet Hertog van Norfolk

Lady Elizabeth de Segrave - Daughter of Margaretha Plantagenet Hertogin van Norfolk

Sir Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Nottingham - Son of Lady Elizabeth de Segrave

Lady Isabel de Mowbray - Daughter of Sir Thomas de Mowbray

Thomas Berkeley - Son of Lady Isabel de Mowbray

Margery Berkeley - Daughter of Thomas Berkeley

John Yeomans - Son of Margery Berkeley

William Yeomans - Son of John Yeomans

Robert Yeomans - Son of William Yeomans

Robert Yeomans - Son of Robert Yeomans (hung, drawn and quartered in 1643 for high treason)

Margaret Yeomans - Daughter of the disemboweled traitor above

Robert Martindale - Son of Margaret Yeomans

Ann Martindale - Daughter of Robert Martindale

Lieutenant William Vale, Royal Navy - Son of Ann Martindale

Reverend John Bartholomew Vale, Church of England - Son of Lieutenant William Vale

William Martindale Vale - Son of Reverend John Bartholomew Vale

John Martindale Vale - Son of William Martindale Vale

Joan Margaret Vale, MD FRCP - Daughter of John Martindale Vale

Me - the delightfully screwed up conglomeration of the gene pool outlined above - Daughter of Joan Margaret Vale … and 25th great-granddaughter of Bill

But when it comes to more recently departed relatives there was one who seemed to have magically vanished from the face of the planet - my great-aunt Katie.

She came over to our house a lot when I was little and she was an unforgettable character!

In high school I dated a boy who told me all about ‘the crazy lady’ on the newspaper route his big brother had had when they were kids. He thought it was hysterically funny that this woman washed her newspapers and hung them out to dry on clotheslines strung across her living room ceiling. I didn’t tell him that the ‘crazy lady’ had been my great-aunt. Nor did I tell him that Aunt Katie regularly called my mother in the middle of the night, scared because her refrigerator was trying to attack her. And I didn’t tell him that, like Aunt Clara from the TV show Bewitched , she liked to steal and collect doorknobs. I think of her every time I see the doorknob she had made into a doorstop - it keeps my office door open.

I kept the doorknob and got rid of the nob of a boyfriend.

I kept the doorknob and got rid of the nob of a boyfriend.


I was easily able to find Aunt Katie’s birth certificate through Ancestry, but as for her death certificate or place of burial? I couldn’t find a darn thing. If she’d returned to the Mothership after being whisked away by aliens I’m pretty sure I would have heard about it at family gatherings, so I had to assume that she left the planet the good old fashioned way – by dying.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember exactly when she died. So I did the online search thing through Service Ontario. I filled out the form, putting in her exact date and place of birth in Ontario, her full legal name, the names of her parents, and her place of death as Toronto (because I know she was living here when she stopped living). And I paid the $30.00 fee to search for her death record. Without knowing the year of her death I searched my best-guess 5-year period – 1973-1978. And this is what I got back from the government –

First request for Aunt Katie death certificate.jpg

I tried again – filled in the form with all the information I had, asked them to search a different 5-year period (1969-1974), sent in another $30.00 and waited. This is what I got back –

Second request for Aunt Katie death certificate.jpg

I know, without doubt, that my Aunt Katie died in Toronto sometime between 1969-1978. So I called the “if you have any questions or concerns” phone number on the forms I’d received and asked them why they had no record of Aunt Katie’s death.

The woman I spoke to told me that Aunt Katie couldn’t possibly have died in Ontario because if she had the government would have a record of it.

I explained that Aunt Katie lived just a few blocks from my parents’ home, I even gave the woman Aunt Katie’s exact address in Toronto, and said that she had indeed died in Toronto, Ontario. I also said that it was most likely that my mother signed the death certificate.

The woman grew concerned. She wanted to know why my mother would sign a death certificate.

I explained that my mother was a doctor.

We went back and forth a few times, getting absolutely nowhere – she insisting that Aunt Katie hadn’t lived or died in Ontario, me insisting that Aunt Katie had done both of those things – and then the woman suggested that I should call the police because this was highly unusual; a death hadn’t been recorded and a direct family member (my mother) may have been responsible for the death and for hiding it from the authorities.

Okay, sure. Mum killed Aunt Katie (because she was tired of getting midnight phone calls about the attack refrigerator) and then hid the body. And now, 15 years after Mum the Murderer’s death, the Toronto Police Services would want to drop everything to investigate this heinous crime.

Or not.

Instead of calling the police I called the funeral home in the neighbourhood where both my parents and Aunt Katie lived - Humphrey Funeral Home. They handled my father’s and my mother’s funerals, so I was hoping that they might have dealt with Aunt Katie’s, too.

I was lucky enough to have my call answered by a woman named Janis and she was amazing! Once I explained the bizarre experience with Service Ontario she said “I love this kind of stuff. I’m going to find your Aunt Katie.” A few days and many phone calls later she called me back and said “Found her! Your mother had Aunt Katie cremated at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.” [Note: she didn’t imply that my mother used the cremation as a way to hide the evidence of a dastardly and undocumented death.]

Armed with Aunt Katie’s date of cremation, I filled out a third Service Ontario form, put in all the information I’d used in my two previous attempts to get a death record, and this time only had to pay $22.00 for the service.

A few weeks later I received Aunt Katie’s long form death certificate.

Image of Aunt Katie death certificate.JPG

It shows that she was born when and where I’d said she was born. It shows that she lived and died in Toronto. And it’s got my mother’s signature on it as the reporting physician.

I don’t know where Mum hid the body/ashes, but I don’t want Aunt Katie’s unique time on this planet to be forgotten … so I’m going to have her name added to my grandmother’s/her sister’s headstone.

Headstone - John Martindale Vale and Margaret Helen Saunders Vale.JPG

What I do know, with documented certainty, is that Aunt Katie died a perfectly natural death. She won’t be coming over to steal my Christmas dessert again or show me the haul from her most recent doorknob heist and she wasn’t murdered by my mother.

Katie Saunders and Janet Forman - Christmas 1991.JPG

Moral of the story: if you’re stumped trying to find out where some of your dead relatives are don’t count on getting service from Service Ontario – call the places that really know where the bodies are buried. They “love this kind of stuff”.

My StoryJanet Forman