Silent Secrets Set in Stone
A walk through a cemetery when researching ancestors can be a haunting, yet beautiful and reflective experience. Aside from the names, birthdates, and death dates, what other secrets might their tombstones reveal?
Those majestic, weather-worn stone carvings you see (popularized by those cipher-loving Victorians from 1839 to 1920) are more than pure decoration. They mean something; a virtue the person exemplified, a value they held dear, or a nod to how they earned their living.
In the table below, learn the meanings behind twenty popular gravestone symbols. A revelation about your ancestor’s life may just be right in front of you, hidden in plain sight.
Meanings of Gravestone Symbols
|Acorn||prosperity; power; triumph|
|Anvil and Hammer||blacksmith|
|Basket||fertility; maternal bond|
|Bird||flight of the soul|
|Column/Pillar (Broken)||life cut short; sudden death|
|Farmer||plow; hoe; rack; stalk of corn; shock of wheat|
|Fern||sincerity; humility; solitude|
|IHS Mono-gram||Christian; name of Jesus|
|Key||knowledge; entrance to heaven|
|Lamp||knowledge; spiritual immortality|
|Lily||innocence, purity, and the resurrection (Easter); marriage and fidelity (Calla); innocence and humility (Lily of the Valley)|
|Oak Leaf||strength; stability; endurance|
|Olive Tree||peace; reconciliation between God and man|
|Palm||life conquering death|
|Rose||love; beauty; virtue; strong bond (intertwined); youthful death (rosebud)|
|Sphinx||courage; honor; power|
|Tree-shaped||possible member of The Modern Woodmen of America or Woodmen of the World fraternal organization member|
A Guide to Cemetery Research
This information, and much more, can be found in The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide. In addition to a complete headstone iconography guide, you can learn more about cemetery research strategies and how to apply discoveries to your family tree.