Dead Giveaways

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Want to know a cheap and easy way to make family history headway? Just visit a relative’s final resting place. Keep an eye out for these cryptic clues.

Art: Do you see a symbol such as an hourglass, urn or tree stump? Check the resources in our Cemetery Research Toolkit to find out what these marks mean. The hourglass on Sarah Haris’ tombstone represents the flight of time.

Epitaph: What verse did your relatives choose to memorialize their loved one? Or did your ancestor write his own epitaph? If that’s the case, what can you infer about his personality? Be sure to consider the verse in its historical context.


Inscription: This could tell you where and when your ancestor was born and died, his parents’ and spouse’s names and his occupation. Just remember that even information carved in stone can contain errors.

Stone composition: Does the headstone consist of granite, marble, slate or some other stone? Based on the material and your ancestor’s death date, can you tell if the stone’s the original grave marker or a replacement one?

From the June 2005 Family Tree Magazine