Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Lost Grave 120 Years Old

                                       Grave of Lim Heon Neo, wife of Chew Joo Chiat

The above grave is 120 years (1896) old. It belongs to Lim Heon Neo, Chew Joo Chiat’s first wife. She is also my great grand-mother. In 2010  I was building Chew Joo Chiat’s family tree, I did not know her name and date of death. As I was just starting the family tree, it did not matter to me then..

Search No 1..In 2011 the Singapore Government announced the construction of an 8 lanes dual carriageway cutting through Bukit Brown Cemetery (BBC) and works would begin in 2013. Searching for my great grand-mother’s grave had become urgent. No living relatives knew her for they were not born then. I went on line browsing through the Ministry of the Environment BBC death registry, hoping to get a lead. It was like looking for a pin in the hay stack. It was a useless attempt and I soon gave up.

Search No 2  Raymond and Charles Goh were Heritage Guide at Bukit Brown Cemetery. They had been documenting graves affected by the proposed carriageways. I was afraid Joo Chiat first wife’s grave might be affected and I sought their help to look for it.
The reply was almost immediate. Raymond  said that he had found Mrs Chew Joo Chiat’s grave nearby the proposed carriageway. On 10 December 2011 he brought me to the site. The tomb stone showed that the grave belonged to Chew Joo Chiat’s second wife Tan Quan Neo. She died on 19th April 1927. I was disappointed at first that it was not my great grandmother's grave.. But on hind sight I was glad that Tan Quan Neo's resting place was discovered.

Search No 3. In mid 2012 there was an announcement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in The Straits Times that all the graves affected by the construction of the new carriageway at Bukit Brown Cemetery would be properly documented together with photograph of each grave. Works would be completed by the end of the 2013. The news gave me hope to find her grave as it could be affected.

On 5th December 2012 I wrote to LTA telling them the possibility of my great grandmother's grave being affected by the proposed new carriageway. I also stated that I was prepared to search through the photographs of the all affected graves.
My request was granted in early January 2013. I was mentally prepared on the strategy of going through the photo of each tomb stone. First I would be on the look out for the tombstone of a woman that showed Her San 和山 as her home village where my root originated. Next was to check for Chew door 周门 which would be below the name of the deceased. A  Chinese woman, when  married to a man with the surname Chew, it means she entered the door of Chew (her husband). The tombstone would indicate her name followed by her husband's surname. Her surname would be after周门. The final stage would be to check the deceased' s children/grand-children' s name on the tombstone. Once their names tally with those on Chew Joo Chiat's tombstone then I could safely say that the tomb on the photo belongs to Chew Joo Chiat's first wife.

At the LTA Hampshire Road Office, I browsed  through 36 photo albums. Each album had 108 photos. Altogether  I browsed through 3888 photos of tombstones documented. My search for Chew Joo Chiat's first wife's grave from the photos was in vain. However, I was glad that her grave was not affected by the construction of the dual carriageway. It means that I still have hope of finding her grave in Bukit Brown Cemetery. 

Break Through

Raymond Goh remembered that I sought his help to search for Chew Joo Chiat’s first wife's grave. On 21st May 2016 he sent me a message and we chatted:

Raymond: Managed to find Mrs Chew Joo Chiat (first wife) at the Hokkien Cemetery next to Bukit Brown. She passed away in 1896
Me: Hi Raymond, finding Joo Chiat's first wife's grave is the greatest news. Thank you so much. Now I can complete my family tree. Can you please show me her grave? Thank you once again.
RaymondSure, can bring you on weekends
Me: I am free on weekends. Please fix an appointment to meet at Bukit Brown Cemetery.
Raymond: Ok let u know, should be next Sunday 9 am
Me: Where shall we meet on Sunday 29 May ?
Raymond: Bukit brown Blk 1 just after the gates
Me: . See you then.
Raymond: Ok see u then

                                               Lim Heon Neo's tomb 

On Sunday 29th May 2016, I and my friend Ogawa Konamoto met Raymond at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Raymond drove us to the site which was at another Hokien cemetery hill, abutting Bukit Brown Cemetery. The cemetery ground was like a jungle with dense vegetation. There was no foot path or trial to follow. It was an uphill climb, stepping onto abandoned graves, up-shoot roots, vines and undergrowth.  At last we arrived at the site and I saw my great grandmother’s grave for the first time.

 Visibility was poor due to obstruction by vines, twigs, plants and leaves. Only the 3-piece tombstone and the front altar stood out. Behind the headstone, the shape of the tomb could not be figure out as it had blended with its surroundings. I had the tombstones and the altar cleaned. Raymond applied some white powder into the grooves of the Chinese characters to make them more visible to read.

The tombstone showed Joo Chiat first wife’s name was Lim Heon Neo 林香娘 
She had 3 sons Chew Cheng Liam , Chew Cheng Swee, Chew Cheng Hao, and 3 daughters Chew Sian Nian ,Chew Lan Nian  and Chew Sit Nian周舌 Her date of death was based on  the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor. According Raymond she died in 1896. A friend said she died on the third lunar month.

Finally I am able to fill up Chew Joo Chiat's family tree with his six children's names instead of four as shown on his tombstone. It is assumed that two of his children Chew Cheng Hao, 浩 and Chew Cheng Sit周清舌 died before him.

No comments: