Grave Signs
You've got questions about discovering, preserving and celebrating your family history; our experts have the answers.
Q. My husband's great-great-great-grandfather died in 1896 and is buried in Marshall County, Iowa. The graves for him and his wife are marked by a single large headstone, with a smaller one for each person. Each small stone is adorned with an eagle feather and the outline of a face with an Indian headdress. "Father" is on one and "Mother" on the other. What does this mean?

A. While it's certainly possible that this family had American Indian origins, more than likely the symbol showing the profile face with an Indian headdress indicates that your husband's ancestor belonged to the Improved Order of Red Men. The women's auxiliary is known as the Degree of Pocahontas. According to the organization's Web site, <>:

"The fraternity was founded in 1765 and was originally known as the Sons of Liberty. These patriots concealed their identities and worked 'underground' to help establish freedom and liberty in the early Colonies. They patterned themselves after the great Iroquois Confederacy and its democratic governing body. [The Iroquois'] system, with elected representatives to govern tribal councils, had been in existence for several centuries. After the War of 1812 the name was changed to The Improved Order of Red Men. They kept the customs and terminology of Native Americans as a basic part of the fraternity. Some of the words and terms may sound strange, but they soon become a familiar part of the language for every member."
Learn more about cemetery research and tombstone symbolism in our Cemetery Research 101 Family Tree University Independent Study Course download, available now in