Friday, February 4, 2011

Graveyards of the Past

As I mentioned earlier this week, there are three types of gravescapes that have been used in the U.S. since the early 1600’s - graveyards, rural cemeteries and lawn cemeteries.
Today we’ll take a look at the graveyard. 

Cemetery in Terre Haute, Indiana
Just the name conjures up visions of an old, desolate hill with worn headstones, heavy shadows and forbidding trees.  
(Cue the Hollywood lightening and howling winds.) 
The word graveyard, according to, comes from the Anglo-Saxon words of  ‘graf’ meaning a pit, 
and ‘yairden’, which means an open place or garden. From the settlement of the U.S. through the 
eighteenth century, graveyards were what we called the places where we buried our dead.  

White River Chapel and cemetery, Bowman, Indiana

Many graveyards were located adjacent to churches and burials there were at the invitation of the church leaders.  Other graveyards were dedicated family plots. Family (or private) burial grounds can still be found in rural areas, but health codes have led to their diminishing numbers. During the settlement of this country most rural families had a burial site on the family farm.  Or early settlers would gather and select a plot of land on which to bury their families together.  Depending on necessity, it may have been on the first farmland settled in the area, or in a wooded area or on a hilltop not far from their homes.

Hamer Cemetery, Mitchell, Indiana
Graveyards were maintained in the American countryside until after WWII when they eventually fell out of favor.  Several reasons have been given for their demise, including the lack of space for new burials, the opportunity for contagious diseases to spread quickly throughout a community, and frequent requests for churches to bury those who were not their parishioners.

Finding my Great-Great Grandparents,
Pike County, Indiana

Regardless of how you view graveyards, there is no adequate way to describe the feelings that surface when you finally locate your family’s graveyard and stand among your ancestors.  Here is their final resting place, near the land, the people and the community they loved.  A gravely awe-inspiring feeling of connection – 
of coming home to your roots!


  1. Well done Joy. I thought your ancestors were of French origin. On the otherside of the family I presume?

  2. Thanks Joe! Actually from this side but back around the 1200's. At least that's what Cousin Vincent says. I would love to go over and explore for myself!