What kind of cemetery is it?
Before the Civil War, most soldiers-at-war were interred where they fell. But then young men began dying by the thousands in battles such as Antietam, Bull Run and Gettysburg. The dire need to quickly bury those who died in the war led to the creation of 14 national military cemeteries in 1862. The first grave markers were made of wood, but they weathered in the elements, and so in the 1870s, marble headstones replaced wooden ones.
How is the cemetery organized?
What details do you notice about the tombstones?
Nearby tombstone inscriptions may offer more clues. For example, do you notice a flurry of similar death dates? Within a family, there may have been an accident or illness. Within a community, illness or natural disaster is a likely culprit. Do other stones with a similar death date to your ancestor’s list a cause of death?
Epitaphs occasionally state a cause of death, especially when due to unusual circumstances. They might mention the deceased’s accomplishments, most often for wealthy or prominent men. Women’s stones frequently carried words of love or praise for her virtues. Markers for children might read simply, “Asleep in Jesus.”
|Year||Common Gravestone Materials|
|1650s and earlier||fieldstones, boulders and wood markers|
|1660s to 1850s||sandstone, limestone and slate|
|1830s to 1880s||marble|
|1880s to 1910s||soft, gray granite and cast metal|
|1920s to present||granite|
• Offerings and cemetery upkeep: Some of the most interesting clues in a cemetery aren’t made of stone at all. Ask yourself these two questions: Is the cemetery as a whole well cared for? What offerings have been left at grave sites?
What cemetery records are available?
cemetery. They could turn out to be relatives.
• 10 Best Websites to See Dead People
• Cemeteries and Death Records
From the July 2010 Family Tree Magazine