Cemetery Sign Language

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Unravel the meanings of your ancestors’ tombstone art with this quick guide to the significance of common marks:

angels: God’s messengers and guardians

archways, pillars and gates: passage into the next life

book: the Bible, the book of life

broken tree stump or pillar: a life cut short

completed pillar or column: a complete and full life

doves: the Holy Spirit

forefinger pointing down: God reaching down for the soul

forefinger pointing up: passage of the soul to heaven

half-carved tombstone: transition from life to death

handshake: God welcoming the soul into heaven

heart: a blissful soul (Colonial era), romantic love (Victorian era to today)

hourglass: flight of time

lambs: purity, gentleness, innocence

palm leaves and lilies: resurrection

rose: motherhood, beauty

skeleton: death

skull and crossbones: mortal remains of the deceased

soul effigy: the immortal soul

tree stumps: usually Woodmen of the World member

urn: death of the flesh

willow: mourning and earthly sorrow

winged death head: mortal remains of the deceased

From the June 2005 Family Tree Magazine