tips and tricks

Details Written in Stone



“Why do you think people decided to carve dead people’s names in rock and put it over where they’re buried?”

My cousin asked me this the other day when we were walking through a cemetery. (That sounds creepy, I know, but we were visiting my grandpa’s grave and then decided to look around.)

I responded to her, “I don’t know, but I’m so glad that they did!”

And, boy, am I grateful. I have hinted in the past at the fact that records aren’t always available for everything everywhere all the time. Or in the case of some research you simply can’t get a hold of the records because they are in another state or country. Well, at least for death, all hope is not lost! Because waaaayyyyy back in time, someone thought it would be a good idea to carve dead people’s names in rock and put it over where they’re buried.

There’s this new fad that has been going on for a few years in the family history community and that is taking pictures of gravestones. Yes! People go to cemeteries and take pictures of gravestones and upload them onto the internet. But it’s fantastic! It allows people all over the world to find the gravestones of their ancestors and, in some cases, get vital information. The photo above is a picture I took of a gravestone to see if I was related to those people we had just stumbled across in the cemetery.

There are two major sites for the uploading and finding of graves in family history. One is Find a Grave and the other is Billion Graves. Both of them can be edited by community contributors. This allows people to add pictures and information about the people who are on the gravestone. Here is an example of a Find a Grave entry:


And here is an example of a Billion Graves page:


With Billion Graves, you have to create an account to access most of the goodies. But they have a free option, so no problem there except for maybe even more genealogy emails in your inbox than you already have. There’s a lot more on both of these sites than I have in the screenshots, so go check them out!

So what kind of information can you find on a gravestone?

Well, as you can see in the above images, they have birth and death dates. Not all gravestones will have birth dates and not all of the dates on the stones will be as specific as Roxie’s (as you can see, the gravestone for LeRoy just shows a year). You can also get relationships from gravestones, if other names are listed (and if you’re really lucky, the stone will tell you how they are related). Sometimes on the back, it will list children or spouses, if it doesn’t list them on the front.

While gravestones may not be as exciting as a death certificate, they are a good replacement. I encourage you to still look for other sources to back up or, even, contradict what is on the stone that you find. But if you don’t have a death certificate, look for a gravestone. And if you are feeling charitable, then take a trip to your local cemetery and start taking pictures to help other people on their way to finding their ancestors.


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