26    Aug 20143 comments

An Unusual Family Reunion: Opening the family crypt

It was a family reunion unlike any other. When members of the Douse family met in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (Canada) last month, one of the central events of the week-long event was excavating their ancestor's crypt. They gathered from all over the world, coming from Ohio, Michigan, and as far as Zimbabwe.

Their story was featured in the Toronto Star last week.

Their ancestor, William Douse, arrived at Prince Edward Island, from Wiltshire, England, in 1822. He was known for his strong wit and tenacity. He was a character, and became well-known on the island. He contributed to the early evolution of P.E.I., serving nearly three decades in the island Assembly, longer than any politician in history.

An oil portrait of William Douse (1800-1864). Image credit: Douse family.

At the same time, he was also a shipbuilder, an innkeeper, a brewer of what he called “table beer.” He was a merchant and auctioneer and, for a short time, a police constable. Douse was most well-known as a land agent and rent collector for the sixth Earl of Selkirk, who owned more than 100,000 acres on P.E.I. He was considered to be very fair to the tenants, which gave him much influence on the island.

John Douse, one of William Douse's four shipbuilding sons. Image credit: Douse family.

He died right before the Charlottetown Conference, a historical event known as the birth of the nation, that he would have surely had a place at, had he still been alive.

Upon his death in 1864, he was laid to rest in the family crypt - which he had built a year earlier. Douse’s reputation for fairness and generosity ran far and wide, and his funeral was the biggest in P.E.I.'s history up to that point. He was the last person buried in the Old Protestant Burying Ground. Neither his wife, Esther, nor any of his 12 children and families are buried in the family crypt with him.

There were many rumors about William's life and death  been passed down  through the generations. It was said that he had escaped the historic Belfast (P.E.I.) Riot by hiding under a bale of hay. It was said that he was a father of the Confederation, although he died the year before Confederation in 1867. It was rumored that some of his grandchildren may have been buried in the tomb as well, although it was known officially that only his granddaughter Lelia Ada Strong -who died a year before William in 1863 at age 5 - is buried with him.

A big part of the reunion was to learn more about the life and death of William and to clear up the rumors and hearsay that had circulated regarding his burial.

The Old Protestant Burying Ground in Charlottetown, where the family crypt is located, was overgrown - the crypt was no longer accessible or open. It had been used over the years by the homeless and drunks as well as partying hangout.

On the 150th anniversary of his death, the gathered family began digging. Their mission was to clean up and restore the crypt, to create a record of its condition and contents and to commemorate their ancestor. They uncovered many mysteries and answered many questions. Above all, they reconnected with the family's patriarch who had built the foundation of their family.

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Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Different for sure but, I can definitely see why they did it and if I found an old family crypt I would possibly think of doing the same thing.
  2. definitely. Family History is a magical part of life, no matter what form. Wish I could go on a tour to the parts of the world my family came from - England, Denmark and Sweden so far but now living in Australia.
  3. Tell me more!!

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