Friday, February 25, 2011

Gravestone Inscriptions – The Final Say

Gravestone inscriptions are the text we find on headstones, monuments, memorials, and tombstones, those epitaphs that honor the deceased.  An inscription may be as basic as a name, birth and/or death date.  Or it may include more information such as a relationship, an age, an occupation, organizational membership, military service, religious affiliation, even immigration. 

All of this information is valuable to the genealogist.  Especially when you consider that these inscriptions may be the only proof you will find of those obscure female ancestors and children who died young.  Many times maiden names are shown, marriage dates are listed, spouses and children are named.

A stone, which indicates a relationship such as Mother, Father, or Sister, helps us establish the fact that there are more ancestors in this lineage.

An occupational symbol can give you insight into how your ancestor earned his or her living, but also, the fact that they were proud of what they did.

Fraternal organizations are often specified on gravestones.  This information can lead you to further searches within these groups and their records

Military service can be indicated in a variety of ways and can even identify what unit was served in and what rank was held.

Religious affiliations can be denoted by special symbols, images, even the actual location of where someone is buried.

Symbols and icons are also used as a silent language that can tell us more about the deceased and their beliefs.  For example,

Conch shells indicate wisdom and man’s earthly journey.

A book can indicate an individuals profession, such as a writer or publisher, or may depict the book of life or the Bible.

 A lamb usually indicates the grave of a child and stands for innocence and purity.

 A lion indicate courage and power.  He is the guardian of the grave.

A draped stone signals the death of an adult and deep mourning, the last veil between life and death.

Even the headstone itself can indicate something about the deceased just by the size, shape or type of stone used for a marker.

The best and most accurate way to record gravestone inscriptions is with a camera.  With digital cameras, and now cell phone cameras, there is really little reason not to use this method to document your ancestor’s stone.
Again, a reminder – Never trust the information on a stone to be completely true.  There is always the possibility of errors having been made. Treat gravestone inscriptions as another wonderful research tool to keep you looking in the right direction.

~ Joy

Ready to get started but not sure where to look?  

Here are just a few sources that provide an abundance of cemetery records online:

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