Gravestones can provide a wealth of information to genealogists. This is probably why many genealogists enjoy visiting graveyards. It explains why so many people are willing to photograph gravestones and post them online in resources that can be shared with other genealogists. That being said, while some things about gravestones have remained the same for a long time, other things have changed considerably over the years.
The primary purpose of a grave maker is to acknowledge that there is a person buried in that particular place. These markers typically included the deceased person’s name, age and the year that he or she died. It was simple, and one step up from a grave covered with stones or wood.
According to the International Southern Cemetery Gravestones Association gravestones became more formalized after it became common to bury people in churchyards. Fancier stone started to be used (such as slate, and then sandstone). It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that people started to view gravestones as a way of memorializing their lost loved ones.
Gravestones still included the basic information: name, age, year of death. But now also could include date of birth, and other information about the person’s life. The deceased might be listed as “mother” or “wife”. Someone may have decided to add a poem or short description of the person to the gravestone. Obviously, this gave future generations more to go on than what was offered by the older style of graves.
The massive gravestones, complete with carved statues of angels, or tall obelisks, started coming into fashion during the Victorian era. Gravestones got extremely elaborate. This was also when people started putting symbols onto graves that could signal anything from the deceased’s religion to occupation, to personal interests.
The large gravestones were also really expensive. At a glance, it was easy to see which families had a lot of money. Walk into an old cemetery today and you can see, at a glance, exactly which families were the richest in town (decades or centuries ago). In some instances, the ability to purchase a huge, elaborate, gravestone for a family member was quite the status symbol!
Today, gravestones have changed direction and gone back to being much simpler than they were in Victorian times. They still hold the name of the deceased, his or her birthday, date of death, and possibly a poem or other personalization.
Most modern gravestones are flat to the ground. They don’t stand up and do not include statuary. This makes it easier for the cemetery to be maintained. Flat gravestones, set somewhat low into the ground, are something a lawnmower can go right over. This change helps keep the graveyards looking nice for the families that come to visit lost loved ones.
Image by Jnzl’s Public Domain Photos on Flickr.
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