Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

14/3/2004

A Strange Burial place

I came across this strange story in Grants “Old and New Edinburgh (1885)” which may be of interest to my readers. It points out a simple fact that an interment might not be where we might expect it to be.

The story concerns “Calton Hill” which is 355 feet high and overlooks Edinburgh at the east end of Princess Street, James Grant writes-

“On the northern side of the hill is a species of cavern or arched vault in the rock, closed by a gate, and known as the Jews burial-place. It is the property of the small Jewish community, but when it was acquired , the Rabbi and other officials from their migratory nature , are quite unable to state, and only know two individuals a man and his wife, lie in that solitary spot. Concerning this place, a rare work by Viscount D’Arlincourt a French writer, has the following anecdote, which might be taken for what it is worth, “A Jew named Jacob Issac many years ago asked leave to lay his bones in a little corner of this rock . As it was at that time bare of monuments, he thought that in such a place his remains ran no risk of being disturbed by the neighbourhood of Christian graves. His request was granted for the sum of 700 guineas. Jacob paid the money without hesitation and has long been at rest in a corner of the Calton, but alas! He is now surrounded on all sides by the Tombs of the Nazarene.”

Though not correct at its close, this paragraph evidently points to a cave in the rock, where one Jew lies.”

Also care should be taken when using plans of Churchyards, monumental Records and Burial records. Depending on how good the compiler of the information is they should be treated with the utmost caution. Recently I was comparing the Monumental Record of a Churchyard with the Church Records and discovered to my surprise that they were different in detail. Which to a casual observer might not be that important but important to a person wishing to trace there Family tree. In this way important information may and can be lost for ever.

Another thing to bear in mind while using Churchyard plans unless the plan is up to date you my find the Tombstone has been moved to a different part of the Churchyard or removed completely. This has been unfortunately been happening more and more often these days. Either through part of a Churchyard being used for a purpose other then what it was originally intended or through simple vandalism. Also Tombstones and unmarked graves are found by measuring so many feet North, South, East or West of a particular headstone and if that headstone is gone then you may have a problem finding what you are looking for.

A further problem is, and this is odd, sometimes two people can be buried in the same grave and one of them might not be recorded. Sometimes burials are simply not marked for example there is 2736 people buried on Leith Links from the plague of 1645 and not one of these people has a marked burial place on the links. The reason for this was the use of plague pits into which every corpse was put and the body was quickly covered in lime. Although from time to time human remains are still found from time to time by people digging on the Links but who these people were we simply don’t know, and there is no way of finding out, short of doing a DNA analysis.

All that I am suggesting in this short article is that caution should be used when dealing with records and it is always better to use several sources if at all possible. Only in that way can you see what is right or wrong and will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Can I add that the old Jewish Grave can still be found on Calton Hill to this day and Jacob did get his wish after all as there is no Christian graves near his interment. “Rest in Peace, Jacob”

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