Beginning Genealogy Lessons
Lesson 9: Walking the Cemeteries
No, you didn't misread the title. One of the "oddest" things we do in genealogical research is walk the cemeteries. We do this for many reasons, so first let's take a look at why we are wandering around graveyards.
You can find a great deal of valuable information on the headstones of your ancestors. The date of birth (secondary source); the date of death (secondary source); and the spouse's name (if they were placed on a family stone) The symbols cut into the stone can you tell you a great deal about them. If there is a Masonic symbol -- you know they were a Mason. If there is an Eastern Star symbol -- you know they were a member of the Eastern Star etc, etc, etc. In many cases, if your ancestor was in the Military their rank and unit designation will be carved into the stone. Normally (not always) families tend to bury themselves in groups, so you might find a few new ancestors (or at least leads).
You are going to need to document their place of burial. Their tombstone is obviously a primary source for where they are buried, so take a camera with you to the graveyard. Personally, I suggest using both a digital camera and a "cemetery" camera. A cemetery camera is one of those throw-away cameras you can buy for $6 or $7 bucks at your local Walmarts. After taking photos of all the tombstones of your ancestors make sure you take a photo of the sign at the front of the cemetery that gives you its name. In your notes (you are taking notes, aren't you?) make sure you jot down the name of the cemetery, what road it is on, and what county it is in. Also mark down which row your ancestors' graves are in, and where it is in that row (for example Row 6, Grave #8).
Now lets take a look at what information you want to pull off of the tombstone.
- Date of birth (secondary source). This is not a primary source because you don't know who supplied the information.
- Date of death (secondary source) -- same reason as the date of birth
- The inscription --- for example "Loving Father",
- Any symbols -- These are valuable clues to clubs or organziations your ancestor was a member of. This can help you in your research.
- Name (secondary source) -- same reason as above
- Spouse's name (secondary source) -- same reason as above
Q & A Section:
- We go to the cemeteries because ________.
- We are basically a strange group of people.
- Tombstones can offer us a lot of good information on our ancestors
- It beats moving to Maine
- A tombstone is considered a primary source for what information?
- Place of death
- Birth date
- Death date
- Where your ancestor was buried
- What information should you copy down off the tombstone?
- Date of birth and date of death
- Full name and spouse's name
- Any symbols and inscriptions
- All of the above.
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