16 January 2011

Cemetery symbolism. What can it tell you about your ancestors?

If you are lucky enough to have found the grave of your ancestor, and if there is a monument there, you may be able to learn a little bit about his or her life by looking carefully at the design and symbolism of the tombstone.

Take a look at the symbols around the grave that might indicate religious belief, status within the community, or a life cut short.  Look at the other graves in the cemetery and you will notice there are common motifs that show the same stone mason at work, or a popular trend in monument design unique to that community. Examine the stone itself, and ask yourself where did it come from? If the stone is not local it was probably bought to the site at some considerable expense, which might be evidence of how deeply the remaining family mourned their deceased.

The gravestone above, of my great grandparents William and Mary Williams, has an Ivy motif engraved around the edge. Ivy is a symbol of immortality and endurance. William and Mary came from a pioneering family and owned considerable property in the area. Their grave is in very good condition, the stone is not local, and shows that their descendants went to a great deal of care and expense to create a lasting monument for them.

This link provides useful information about some common symbolic motifs that are found on western tombs.


I plan to write a number of future articles on cemetery symbolism in the future so please subscribe to this blog if you wish to follow this topic.