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Researching Your Family Genealogy? Don't Overlook Family Graveyards And Community Cemetaries

Cherly Fox

Gravestones and cemetery records can offer you a wealth of information about your family tree that may not be available anywhere else. If you're starting the genealogical research into your family, learn why making a few trips to small family graveyards and rural community cemeteries could be well worth your time.

You can get rid of basic gaps in your records.

There are a lot of details about families that never made it into official records—births and deaths often occurred at home, with the only "official' record being the family Bible, particularly if your ancestors lived in areas that were rural at the time. Even if there was a courthouse keeping track of births or deaths at the time, the official records may have long been lost or destroyed, leaving you with frustrating gaps and a lot of guesses about the information in your records. Did your great-grandmother really have 16 children? Did your paternal grandfather and all of his siblings really live to be over a hundred years of age?

Family and community graveyards can help fill in those gaps. Gravestone inscriptions often include valuable basics, like full names, including middle names and maiden names that can help you with your research. They also usually include the exact dates of birth and death, which can help you turn family legends into facts. Many gravestones also include epitaphs that indicate the relationship of the deceased to others. Engravings like "Beloved Wife" or "Father and Husband" can help you trace relationships with accuracy.

You can find out more about the lives of your ancestors.

Gravestone inscriptions also provide genealogy researchers with a wealth of additional information, just through their symbolism. There are numerous books and websites devoted to explaining the meaning of both common and uncommon gravestone engravings. Look for symbols that indicate military service, occupation, religion, or something significant about that person's life or death. While this is by no means a definitive list, some common symbols you can expect to see include

  • crosses, triangles, or triquetras, which usually indicate a strong Christian faith and the possible affiliation with a church
  • the square and compass, three links of chain, or an eye enclosed inside of a pyramid, indicating that the deceased belonged to a fraternal organization like the Masons or Odd Fellows
  • a sword indicating cavalry service, an anchor indicating that someone was a seaman, and guns for a foot soldier

Symbols like these can help you broaden your research and point you in the direction of new sources. For example, knowing that someone was religious might help you track down church records that tell a little more of your family history. Military records and fraternal order records may become other valuable sources of information as well.

Because of the complexity of the symbolism and the multitude of possible meanings, it's advisable to take photographs of the gravestones your find and their inscriptions or artwork. That way, you can take the images home and can continue to research their possible meanings and the rich clues they provide.  


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Planning A Beautiful Service

When my mom passed away, my dad and I were charged with the task of planning a funeral that everyone would love. Unfortunately, this would prove to be a difficult task, since many of my mom's relatives didn't speak English. We mulled over what to do, and we decided to meet with the funeral director for a few tips. He told us a few ideas for how to make the experience easy for everyone to understand, and we implemented his suggestions. It was incredible how much easier it made things on the day of the funeral. Read here for more funeral arrangement tips so that you aren't left stressing about more than you need to.

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