I’ve been continuing my quest to find the resting places of my mum’s grandparents, and we are almost there I think, thanks to the sterling work of Paul Wood, church warden of St James the Greater Church in Lealholm, and his wife Hanneke.

Records over the years have not always been kept up to date, and what information is available is highly confusing. But the Woods have been doing their best to make sense of it all to see if they can work out where my great grandparents lie.

To recap, my mum’s family could not afford headstones when the grandparents on her mother’s side died. Mary and John Lacy passed away in 1934 and 1941 respectively and it was a source of sorrow to my nana that her parents’ graves were unmarked. You might recall that Mary is the person who created one of the three samplers on our kitchen wall. Her birth name was Atkinson, and everyone called her ‘Polly’ rather than Mary.

According to Paul, the two existing plans of the Lealholm grave plots do not tally with one another, so he is trying to create a definitive version which includes the plots both with and without headstones (many locals could not afford headstones for their loved ones).

He describes the old ‘official’ map as “a bit of a mess”, but in relation to our Polly explains: “On this plan, there are three spaces not marked with a name between graves C23 (Dale) and C27 (Capstick). But… there are many spaces where there are gravestones which also don’t have anything marked. And many plots just have a surname, not initials.”

But what complicates things even more is that what is on the ground doesn’t always tally with the plans he is working from, one reason being that it wasn’t uncommon for headstones featuring multiple names to be moved from the original spot so that they spanned two or more graves, presumably because the family could not afford, or didn’t want to pay for, another expensive headstone for the most recently deceased relative.

He says: “This is essentially illegal if done without proper records, but it was done all the same.”

Although they have a job on their hands, the Woods are making progress. As a very general rule, people were interred in the graveyard in the same order as they were listed in Lealholm Church’s handwritten burial register. That is unless, of course, they were placed in a grave that already had space reserved (for example, if a husband predeceased his wife, the family could pay for space to be left for her in his grave, and her name would then be added to the existing headstone after she died).

To work out where Mary ‘Polly’ Lacy lies, looking at the register of burials, the Woods found that a Mary Ann Dale was interred on May 18, 1934, and our Mary Lacy is next in line (August 24, 1934). The next burial listed after Mary Lacy is Hannah Mary Watson on September 22, 1934, and she is followed by John Cook, who was laid to rest on October 28, 1934.

So comparing this handwritten list of burials to what is actually in the graveyard, Mary Ann Dale has a headstone, while the next two people on the written list, our Mary Lacy and Hannah Mary Watson, do not. John Cook does have a headstone (his name appears on the same one as G&J Captsick, mentioned in the paragraph above). On the ground, it is clear that there is enough space for there to be at least two graves between Mary Ann Dale’s and John Cook’s headstones, and therefore we can conclude that, following the sequence of the written burial list, that our Polly lies, unmarked, next to Mary Ann Dale.

As Paul adds: “Your enquiry has helped me realise that I can use the old registers to try to fill in the missing gaps for the whole churchyard, or at least show the most probable place for unmarked burials.”

That is very good news, as it means families in similar situations to ours have a chance of discovering the final resting places of their late ancestors. We are still working on Polly’s husband, John, who died seven years after his wife. We do have some clues, but not enough yet to say for sure where he is. I hope to bring you more news of him soon.

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug.