Cemeteries and Tombstone Art in Family History Research

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CEMETERIES & TOMBSTONE ART IN FAMILY HISTORY RESEARCH
By Holly T. Hansen

 

Cemeteries and cemetery art are intriguing and of great interest to many people who love to be out-of-doors and expanding their understanding of historical times. The art and symbolism in cemeteries and on their tombstones are of great significance and gives us a deeper glimpse into the past.

On this episode of Big Blend Radio’s 3rd Friday Family History Show, genealogist Holly T. Hansen shares tips on visiting cemeteries and viewing tombstone art as part of tracing your family history.

Tombstone Timeline

Before to Early 1800s, Stones were slender, square or multi-lobed, carved to fit the design, and made of slate slabs or sandstone which was easy to carve. Individual stones. Family tombs this early were uncommon. (South Carolina 1784, posted on RootsWeb at Ancestry.com.)


1820s-1830s
, There was a rural cemetery movement to the “Memory Gardens” style cemetery established during World War I. Wooded areas on the edge of town or removed from the city along the hillsides. Romantic, circular, and flowing spaces. The main movement really took hold during the 20s and 30s, then quickly spread through the cities—some as early as 1796 through French influence: Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Cincinnati. See J. B. Jackson, “The Vanishing Epitaph: From Monument to Place,” Landscape 17 (Winter 1967-68): 21-26 and Catherine Howett, “Living Landscapes for the Dead,” Landscape 21 (Spring-Summer 1977): 9-17.


1830-1910
, White or soft grey granite was used. This was subject to lichen and weathering. The stones are rounded, slender slabs, moderately carved. Footstones are common to mark the length of the grave and may look like field stones. Sandstone of brown or soft pink and grey was used until about 1850.

1840-1880, White granite tombstone with all-seeing eye. Widely used in LDS-Mormon tombstone art. After 1842 through 1880 the all-seeing eye became popular throughout areas settled by Mormons, demonstrating a connection to Masonry. See Allen D. Roberts, “Where are the All-Seeing Eyes?” Sunstone (May-June 1979): 22-27.


1850-1920
, It is possible to correlate the stones with the development of county maps—1850s and 1860s. County atlases—1870-1920, including the majority of cemeteries—about 80% of those established before the date of publication.


1860-1890
, Squared stone on stone; granite, marble, or sandstone, free-standing often elaborately carved or including ornate sculpture. Family tombstones begin to appear. Sometimes a large family stone in the center of the plot, with small individual stones in neat rows on either side. Fewer
epitaphs which had regularly appeared on monuments—carved sentiments and poetry became too costly toward the end of this period.


1880 to Present
, Polished granite and marble, machine cut, mass-produced. Some stones are elaborate three-dimensional markers with more detailed biographical information.

Holly T. Hansen aka “Miss Holly GenTeacher,” is the President and Founder of Family History Expos, Inc, and as an author, lecturer, editor, and publisher, has been instrumental in helping thousands understand the principles, strategies, and sources they can use to trace their roots in today’s ever-changing technological environment. She is the mastermind behind more than 50 Family History Expos held across the United States, and is dedicated to helping individuals and families, one-on-one, with their personal research needs. Currently, she is involved creating podcasts, webinars, and video presentations to help people move forward in their family history endeavors from the comforts of home. Learn more at www.FamilyHistoryExpos.com

 

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About the Author:

Holly T. Hansen aka “Miss Holly GenTeacher,” is the President and Founder of Family History Expos, Inc, and as an author, lecturer, editor, and publisher, has been instrumental in helping thousands understand the principles, strategies, and sources they can use to trace their roots in today’s ever-changing technological environment.

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