Tuesday, April 19, 2011
It seems appropriate, with this upcoming religious holiday weekend, to take a closer look at what religious symbols can be found in the cemetery. Here are several of them, listed alphabetically.
Alpha Omega – The first and last letter of the Ionic Greek alphabet. A verse from the Book of Revelation, “I am the alpha and omega,” - the beginning and the end.
Anchor – The anchor has been a symbol of steadfastness and hope in the Christian religion. Early Christians used the anchor as a secret symbol to guide the way to religious meetings.
Anchor with Cross – Another Christian symbol referencing a verse from the book of Hebrews referring to God as “hope we have as an anchor of the soul.”
Angels - Believed to be the spiritual messengers in most major religions. Angels are seen as the guardians of death. We will take a more in-depth look at angels in next Tuesday’s blog.
Book – It may be opened to indicate the Bible or The Book of Life. A closed book may indicate the completion of a life's story.
Book with finger pointing upward indicates faith.
Chalice – The cup represents the sacraments, especially in the Catholic rite of Communion. Often a chalice marks the head stone of a priest.
Clergy – Those ordained to perform the duties of ministering in the Christian religion also have symbols that indicate the branch of faith they followed.
Columns joined with an archway – Portrays the entrance to heaven.
Cross – There are numerous versions of a cross. We will take a more in-depth look at them on Friday. For today, the cross is the most recognized Christian symbol. Shown here are the Latin cross, used mostly in Protestant religions, and the Crucifix, used in the Catholic religion.
Crown – A symbol of victory and righteousness, triumph over death.
Dove – The dove is a symbol of devotion.
Grapes, Grape Leaves, Grape Vines– All indicate the Christian faith.
Hands – We use our hands to communicate. Two hands held in prayer show reverence and devotion.
Therefore, you might surmise that a finger pointing down would bode ill, but actually the meaning is mortality or sudden death.
Harp – A symbol of music and worship in heaven.
I H S – The three letters usually appear on a cross and are derived from the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek – Iota, Eta and Sigma. This has also been said to stand for the Lain words “Iesus Hominum Salvator – “Jesus, mankind’s savior.”
$ - In the Latin alphabet, I H S O Y S, again, Jesus’ name, is combined and interwoven.
Ivy - A plant that never losses it’s color and clings tenaciously symbolizes immortality and eternal life.
Lamb – The lamb is used on the stones of children because it is a symbol of innocence. It has been used to mark children’s graves since Egyptian times. The lamb is also a symbol of Christ.
Lamp – Usually it has a flame rising up from it. The lamp indicates a love of knowledge, wisdom and faith.
Lily - A lily or lilies may be used to symbolize innocence and purity. Often they are associated with the Virgin Mary.
Rock – May be used as a headstone and is a Christian symbol of St. Peter or the resurrection of Jesus.
Scared Heart - A heart encircled with thorns indicates Christ’s suffering.
Star – A 5-pointed star is symbolic with the five wounds of Christ.
Star of David – A symbol of Judaism. This six-pointed star represents divine protection.
Thistle – A symbol of sin and earthly sorrow.
Woman hanging on cross – This was originally the drawing that accompanied the hymn “Rock of Ages.” It indicates unwavering faith. Commonly used on Masonic graves.
Wreath – Symbol of eternity.
On Friday, Good Friday in the Christian religion, we will explore the variations, designs and meanings of crosses in the cemetery.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Church and religious records are considered to be some of the oldest, most detailed but “forgotten” genealogy records that exist. While not considered a primary source of information, church records can prove to be an excellent source for names, dates, relationships, and other crucial information.
If a parish had a burial ground, they should have maintained burial records and plot maps. These records can include not only the name and dates for the deceased, but also burial information on other family members located in the same cemetery.
Each religion had its own types of papers and records deemed important to that faith. The most prominent church records to search for include baptism, christening, confirmation, marriage and banns, along with funeral and burial. Most of these records are kept in bound church record books. But be sure to check for any and all religious records available. These could also include membership lists, meeting minutes,
lists of communicants, church bulletins, church photos, newsletters, newspapers and missals. Also search for tombstone inscriptions, pew rentals, bar and bat mitzvah records, published congregational histories, biographies of clergy or prominent church members, church correspondence and clergy papers. Churches also kept records on families that moved with transfer of membership records.
Many frontier churches have vanished, but there is still hope in locating their records. Start by searching for the original church. If it no longer exists, check for other churches in the area of the same denomination to see if the records were transferred there. If not, search for a central repository, a main church archive, or possibly a church-affiliated university or library. State repositories or national holdings may also hold the records you seek.
If you are not sure of an ancestor’s religion, an obit or tombstone symbol could lead you to the correct faith. It is also worth noting that in the 1930’s and early 40’s, the Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA – Works Projects Administration – put together inventories of religious archives across the country. These compilations were then published and could include information such as the name of the church, denomination, location, district, association, clergy, even if the church bell still worked. Although over 80 years old, these can still be a great source for local and state religious information of the time.
Religious records do have their problems since many were written by hand and then transcribed and typed up years, even centuries later. But they can also contain the only informational glimpse we may get into our forbearers past. In America, frontier families moved in groups. If a settlement only had one church or religious meeting house, your ancestors probably attended, regardless of the faith practiced. One advantage to the early church records is that the people who moved together also spoke the same language. This means that there is less of a chance that a name was misspelled or an event was misinterpreted.
There are numerous sites on the Internet to search for church and religious records. Here are just a few to get started:
Friday, I'll have an interview with Dan Wilson, superintendent of the oldest public cemetery in Indiana!