GUELPH — How did a tombstone belonging to a child who was buried in the Elora Cemetery in 1878, make its way to a Guelph antique store?
And how is Ray Mitchell to figure out the rightful owner of this tombstone that's 136 years old?
Antiquing sometimes requires detective work, said Mitchell, owner of Dis-a-ray Antiques on Wyndham Street, and he started sleuthing when this item came in.
He acquired the tombstone on Sunday and by Tuesday had already deciphered the markings and had a bit of history on the family.
Constance Butera, cemetery licensing and records coordinator for Wellington County, and Elysia DeLaurentis, archives assistant at Wellington County Museum and Archives, added to that history when contacted by the Mercury.
The tombstone is for William John French, son of Frederick and Elizabeth French, who died Oct. 15, 1878 at the age of two. He was buried in the Elora Cemetery in a family plot originally purchased by Josias French in 1864.
According to cemetery documents, young William was buried in Section D, Row 6, Zone 2 of the Elora Cemetery. Presumably the tombstone was taken from there as well.
Information on ancestry.ca indicates young William had a sister Mary Jane French who was born in 1874 and died in April 1875 at eight months old. William also had two younger siblings who did survive, George Frederick French and Melissa Elizabeth French.
The French family settled in Pilkington and Peel townships near Alma.
Frederick and Elizabeth French, the parents, later moved to Saskatchewan where they remained the rest of their lives.
The tombstone is made of local limestone, two or three feet tall with engraving on the front. The lettering is weathered and smooth now and moss has taken root. Mitchell was able to make out the words by doing a rubbing on the grave marker's face.
DeLaurentis said the Ontario Genealogical Society audited the cemetery in 1993 and the words Mitchell deciphered match what the genealogical society had transcribed that year.
In 2008, Stephen Bowley of the society returned to photograph the headstones and William French's is among the collection.
"I can confirm that the tombstone in your photos is the same stone that was still in situ in the Elora Cemetery in 2008," DeLaurentis wrote in an email.
"It would be nice to see it back in the cemetery," she said in a phone interview. "That's where it had been, and that's where it belongs."
Butera said a lot of the older headstones become unstable in the cemetery, so sometimes people will lay them flat on the ground so they won't topple over and break.
She said some families have replaced old grave markers with plaques so they will last but she has no record of that happening for William French's grave.
"He was just two when he died and it was so long ago," Butera said. "I can't imagine anyone would have removed it to make way for a replacement. It was probably stolen."
Butera said kids will sometimes go to the cemetery and push tombstones over but she's never heard of grave markers being stolen before. She was unaware that this one was missing.
Mitchell said the story he was told is that it was found in the woods. He said he purchased it for $50 but doesn't intend to sell it.
"I would rather it goes back to the right family," he said. "It's a thing of beauty — a beautiful example of Ontario stone art."