Side Notes

A Little Note on Headstones

One of my favorite sources in family history research is Find a grave is service based. It's a site that contains tons of virtual profiles for those who have passed away. They have a list of cemeteries and therein are lists of people buried there. Most lists are incomplete. The members and volunteers help contribute to these memorials and create new ones if there are some missing. Volunteers will go to cemeteries and take pictures of requested headstones and then post them to the appropriate memorial. The memorials may also contain photographs of the deceased, links to other family members, and sometimes even internment records or obituaries.

I've taken a few pictures myself to be added to the site, and I've been very grateful for the pictures that are there and for the volunteers who so willingly go take pictures of headstones for me. My sister once asked why I collected pictures of headstones or took a few pictures for other people. Why was the headstone so important?

Yesterday, my sister and I were walking through a cemetery she'd wanted to show me. As we were walking down the paths and reading some of the names, this question came back to me. Why are headstones so important? I'd given her an answer at the time she first asked it, but I thought of a few other things too as we were in the cemetery. Here are a few reasons why a simple photo of a headstone can mean so much to me and my family history research.

1. A headstone is a physical piece of evidence that they really lived.

2. They provide birth and death dates.

3. They can be a means of discovering other family members. I've found many spouses of ancestors by finding a headstone.

4. On occasion, their epitaphs reveal a little bit about them, whether it's an occupation or how they died, etc.

Researching family history is more than just compiling a bunch of names. Every piece of information you gain about a new ancestor makes them more real to you. These people really lived. Part of the joy (and at times frustration) of family history is discovering the stories of the people who have come before all leading up to you. Ideally, we'd all love to have actual portraits of our ancestors, but having a photo of the headstone is better than nothing, and it can be the perfect stepping stone to lead to further information and branches of your family tree.

Do not take headstones for granted. It may be just the clue you need when you've run into the brick wall in your reasearch. I encourage you to take a look at findagrave and even contribute where you can. It's a free service, so no need to worry about cost.

I wish you all the best of luck in your own family history research.

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