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:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cemetery Records – And the Plot Thickens……

There are several records that genealogists search for in regard to a death.  These include cemetery records (and grave inscriptions,) church records, sexton’s records, funeral home records, death records, and mortality records.  We will take a look at each, in turn.  Today, let’s investigate records from the cemetery.

Permit for Disposition of Human Remains
Even if you already know the date of death for your ancestor, cemetery records can offer you much more information about them.  For example, burial permits can be a wealth of information.  The boards of health of a state have been granting these permits for over 90 years. A burial permit gave a funeral director or undertaker authorization for the burial to take place. The information on a burial permit includes the name of the deceased, date of death, city of death, date of burial, and plot number and section where the grave is located, along with the name of informant and their relationship to the deceased.  That’s a lot of information!  But keep in mind it was supplied by an informant and is subject to errors. Burial permits are now known as Permits for Disposition of Human Remains. This form also allows for the cremation of remains.
Burial plat map

A burial plot (plat) map shows the ownership and the specific location of the plot.  It may also include additional details concerning the individuals buried there; depending on what that particular cemetery collects as information.
Burial or Interment Register for a National Cemetery

The burial or interment register is a record of burial for the deceased.  It includes the name of the deceased, age, address, marital status, date of death, date of burial, burial lot number and section where the lot is located for each individual.  When dealing with cemetery records, remember that the date of death and the date of burial are usually different. It is easy to confuse the two when you are involved in the thrill of finding that elusive information.

Private cemetery
Remember, cemeteries may be public or private.  A public cemetery is funded by taxpayers dollars and is under the jurisdiction of a governmental entity, be it local, county, state or federal.  A private cemetery is just that - private.  Private monies and contributions fund it.  You must have the permission of the governing organization in order to view their records. Privacy laws may limit what can be shared with the public.  Private cemeteries can include those with religious affiliations, organizational ties, fraternal groups and family cemeteries.

Friday we’ll take a look at grave inscriptions, discover what to search for, and decipher how to read them to learn more rare information about an ancestor.

~ Joy

Friday, February 18, 2011

Random Acts of Cemetery Kindness

Yesterday was Random Acts of Kindness day.  If you’re a genealogist, you’ve probably encountered Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness.  So I thought, why not random acts of cemetery kindness?  What could we do to help assist, maintain, and preserve our cemeteries?

Here are just a few of the ideas we tombstone tourists could implement for the betterment of cemeteries and burial grounds.

  Help keep the cemetery clean.  Pick up trash and dispose of it properly.

• Offer to take photos of gravestones for other genealogists who live far away. Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness can help you get started.  So, too, can your local genealogical or history society.

• Search for death records, cemetery records or wills for other genealogists in need.

• Offer to assist in documenting a cemetery for genealogical purpose.  Help your local or state society put that information on the Internet so others may use it to locate their relatives.

• Offer to conduct walking tours for school groups and visitors at the local cemetery.

• Place broken monument parts by their stone.  Let the Cemetery Sexton’s office know about it.  If they cannot make the repairs, offer to assist or find someone who can.

 • Check with the cemetery sexton/groundskeeper to see if you can assist with any grounds cleanup projects.  Many times small cemeteries welcome help with mowing, trimming, weeding, raking and fence repairs.

• Are you good at surveying or platting?  Volunteer your services to a cemetery.

• Contact a veterans group and volunteer to assist them in placing flags or wreaths at the graves of veterans.  Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Christmas are some of their busiest times.

• If you are a veteran, offer to serve in a military funeral honor detail.

• If you can play the bugle, offer to play Taps at a veteran’s funeral.

• If you know of an abandoned or forgotten cemetery, contact the preservation society in your state and let them know where it is.

• Take a cemetery restoration workshop.  Most states offer this training.

• We can sponsor a section of roadway in order to keep it maintained, so why not consider sponsoring a section of a cemetery? Your company, society, church, organization or children’s group can assist in keeping it well tended.

And it goes without saying; if you find any signs of illegal activities or vandalism, report them immediately to the cemetery sexton and the authorities.

Contact your local genealogical society, historical society, veterans association, or cemetery sexton’s office and offer to assist them in doing whatever is needed in the cemetery.

Want to do even more?  Join a cemetery association locally or where your ancestors are buried.  Contact your state’s cemetery preservation association for opportunities and training.  And consider joining a group like the Association for Gravestone Studies
According to President, Ian W. Brown, in his welcome message, “If you share an interest in art, history, genealogy, archaeology, anthropology, conservation or material culture” then you are invited to join in their efforts.

Remember, random acts of kindness make us, and others, feel good about the world.   So let’s offer some random acts of cemetery kindness in the spirit of giving back to those who’ve gone before us, to the land, and to our ancestors.  You know they would be proud!

(Can you think of more Random Acts of Cemetery Kindness?  Please, let’s hear them!)

~ Joy

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cemetery Research can be an Adventure

We genealogists have a lot of investigating and verifying to do when searching for our ancestors.  We know about finding birth certificates, marriage certificates and death certificates.  We know to check birth, marriage and death dates to validate if this is our forebear.  But there are other records available with cemetery connections that can help us gain more knowledge and a better understanding of our ancestors’ lives.

Cemetery records include church burial records, Sextons records, cemetery deeds, plot or plat records, burial permit records, grave opening orders and gravestone inscriptions.  Also of note are funeral home records, church and religious records, family bibles and cemetery associations.  All are a wealth of information and we will look more in-depth at each of these records in upcoming blogs.

Notice the death date for William has been scratched in

Tombstone research can provide a lot of information.  The usual birth and death dates should be given.  Although, not always the way you expect.  

Social status, Organization affiliation &
Military service are shown

Many times a marriage date is also listed.  But gravestones can also help us identify the deceased’s occupation, religion, military service, social status or sentimental regard held by others.
 Though it is exciting and thought provoking to locate your ancestors grave (and that alone may be enough reason for making the trip,) remember that you may gain more out of your excursion if you know what you are searching for.  It could be as simple as just wanting to visit the site or town.  Or it could involve searching for other relatives who may also be buried here, possibly infants or female relatives you were not aware of.

My Great-Grandmother Rachel (Gladish) France

Keep in mind too, that some older cemeteries are very difficult to locate.  They may no longer be in use, they may be on private property, they may have been relocated, or the name may have been changed or varied.  When my great-grandmother, Rachel (Gladish) France, died in 1970, I was extremely saddened to have lost one of my closest allies. As a child, I noticed few things about the day of her funeral, except that we drove for a long time in the country to get to a cemetery called Beatle.  Years later, when I started my genealogy research, I searched for Beatle Cemetery without luck.  The local genealogical society had no records on the name. I then approached the funeral home where the service was held, although it had changed ownership.  They were able to produce a copy of Rachel’s funeral card that showed interment in Biddle Cemetery.  After more research I discovered that it was actually Beadle (Beedle) Cemetery and it was located in an adjoining county, hence the long drive in the country.

My Great-Grandfather Marion France
Once there I remembered it and that hot August day, long ago.  There was the stone for Rachel along with one for her husband, Marion France, a great-grandfather I never met, but whom I was told I had a temper like.  (Quick to rise, quick to pass.)  That is when I discovered Jesse France, a child of my great-grandparents that I had never heard of.  

Paternal Great-grandparents Thomas & Sarah (Perry) Ready

And to end the day on an even more surprising note, I discovered that my paternal great-grandparents, Thomas and Sarah (Perry) Ready, were also buried in this cemetery, cat-a-corner from the Frances.  These are the only two groups of my relatives I am aware of that are buried in what is a family cemetery for the Beadle (Beedle) kin.  
Maternal Great-Grandparents stones in front,
paternal Great-Grandparents stone in back, toward left
Why both sets of great-grandparents are here, I have yet to find out.  But that is part of the fun of genealogy research; you never really get all of your questions answered.  Just enough to keep you looking backward and moving forward.

~ Joy

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cemetery Symbols of Love

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and with it, thoughts of love.  Love for a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend.  As the song says, “Love makes the world go round….” And that is true, even in death. 

There are numerous symbols used on gravestones that represent love.  Some are obvious to us, two entwined hearts or two entwined wedding rings.  But other symbols from Victorian times had meanings that are a bit more obtuse at first glance. For example, a tied knot signified marriage and unity. 

Let’s let the photos and the captions explain more about these symbols of love.

The two clasped hands of a man and a woman indicated marriage and a unity,
 even after death.

A dove represented purity of spirit but also devotion. 

An arch joining two columns represented a gateway to eternity and is commonly found where a husband and wife are buried side-by-side.

An urn with a flame denoted undying remembrance and eternity.

A fleur-de-lis represented passion and dedication.

The letters F – L – T with a linked chain was the symbol of the 
Independent Order of Odd Fellows and represented Friendship, Love and Truth.

A dog embodied loyalty and characterized someone worthy of unconditional love.

A weeping willow symbolized remembrance.

 Of course, the language of flowers has always spoken of love in all of its many aspects.  Most people know that a rose stands for romance, passion and true love.  In Victorian times joined roses epitomized a strong and loving bond between two people.  Honeysuckle signified the bonds of love and affection.  Ivy had many meanings including devotion and faithfulness.  Pine also stood for fidelity.  And the lily, which has many religious depictions, signified beautiful thoughts and emotions.

And, as this stone shows, even in our modern times, we still use icons that are special to us and that tell our stories to symbolize our eternal love and devotion. 

Regardless of the symbol used, the reflection remains the same – 
Love does indeed transcend death and the grave.

Enjoy a happy Valentine’s Day with someone you love!

~  Joy