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tombstone cemetary A family historian's visit to a graveyard, whether large or a small family cemetery, is for them much like entering a library making copies by performing tombstone transcriptions. Each tombstone cemetery plot is a valuable book foretelling invaluable information about someone whose final resting place is marked by beautifully etched gravestone markers. The clustering together of family plots could resemble different genres of books.

You may gather information that includes the full name, birth and death date, as well as symbols, phrases, and epitaphs that indicate religious, community or military affiliations, cause of death, and the impact this person had on the mourners he left behind. Keep in mind that some symbols may be chosen primarily for aesthetic reasons, but in most cases a symbol represents a universally accepted definition.

As a helpful aspect, cemeteries generally include large groupings of family members. A genealogist may discover a missing link after inquiring about a mysterious plot included near the family burial grounds.

Tombstone Markings - Symbols and Meanings
Religious Gravestone Symbols:
A Bibleusually contains a cross and is a universal symbol for the belief in christianity. AngelA christian symbol that is believed to guard a person's final resting place
Anchorrepresents a hidden cross ChaliseRepresents the holy sacriment
HeartA Catholic symbol indicating the suffering of Christ for our sins Menorah :A symbol of someone practicing Judaism
Star of David :A symbol of someone practicing Judaism Triangle :Holy trinity

Trades and Occupations Symbols on Gravestones:
Barber :Bowel (to catch the blood) and a razor Butcher :An axe, steel knife, or a clever
Farmer :Coulter (a type of hoe) or a stalk of corn Mason :Wedge and a level
Mariner :An anchor or a sexton A Bible or book :May indicate a teacher or a minister
Celtic Cross :represents faith and someone from Irish ancestry 

Plants and Animals Symbols on Gravestones :
Birds :Means eternal life or the resurrection Butterfly :The diseased lived a short life
Lamb :Usually marks on the grave of a child meaning always maitaining innocence Lion :Eternally watching over the grave; also could mean the courage of the diseased
Tree :Represents life; a tree spouting indicates life everlasting; A tree stump stands for a life interrupted Full Bloomed Rose :The person died during the prime of their life
Eagle :Courage, faith and military service Hands : 

Military Symbols on Gravestones :
Sword found at base of stoneinfantry Sword inverted :victory
Sword sheathed :temperance during conflict Swords crossed :Life lost in battle
Fish :May indicate military service Eagle :Courage and military service
Cannon :If found at base of stone means artillary Bugle : 
Gun :Strength and protection   

How Different Cultures Mark Graves
African American Slaves
Due to the perils of slavery, archaeologists face many obstacles when searching for slave graves. Often times, slave graves were marked with carved wood shafts, plants, an iron pipe, railroad iron, and most were adorned with sea shells. In Africa, the living bury the dead near and sometimes under the diseased house, so the spirit can find their way home. Universally, African American slaves were buried east to west with their heads pointed to the west, which points to Africa. Shells, representing the sea, were sprinkled over African American graves indicating, "The sea brought us, so the sea will take us back."

The Muslim faith does not allow for any decorations or structures constructed on top of Muslim grave sites. Mourners are permitted to lay a pile of stones on the hallowed ground in order to encourage praying for that person.

The Jewish faith requires that the diseased be mourned for a total of 12 months. On the first month a basic stone marks the grave. At the finale of the 12 months of mourning a tombstone is unveiled and accompanied by a celebration.

Native American
Native American people mark their graves drastically different due to the difference in how the tribes function. In the North Eastern shores, Indian traditionally mark their graves with canoes hung on poles, dug into the ground, or swaying from trees. The canoe coffins are adorned with items used by the diseased such as tin cups, blanks, pots, and pans. Generally, the items are torn or full of holes rendering them useless by people of this world, but believed to be repaired in the great beyond.

Interesting Facts About Gravestone Markers, Tombstones, and Cemeteries
1. The The oldest known Jewish cemetery is the Mount of Olives Cemetery located in Jerusulam and also a burial ground for people of Muslim and Christian faiths.
2. The first tombstone recorded in the Bible is in Genesis 35:20, where Jacob set up a pillar (tombstone) on Rachel's grave on the road to Bethelehem.
3. In March 2002, archaeologists removed what is believed to be the oldest Christian tombstone found in Japan. Discovered near Osaka, Japan, the grave marker relic was dated in the 16th century from the ground in Osaka Japan. Historians believe the tombstone was buried to hide it from authorities who persecuted Christian in its time.
4. Located on Route 80, near Tombstone, Arizona, the Boot Hill Graveyard became the final resting place to over 250 gunslingers, miners, and other fearless wild west pioneers. One of the tombstone epitaphs reads, Here lies Lester Moore 4 slugs from a 44 no less no more.

Tips For How to Transcribe a Cemetery
As online genealogy researching becomes more popular, an increasing number of researchers are digitizing cemetery plot transcriptions. Older cemeteries located in rural communities prove to be the most valuable, since they are less likely to have already been recorded. Grave markings whittle away with age, so this practice is a must for preserving this valuable genealogy research tool.

Overall Cemetery Description - You may want to photograph the entrance to the cemetery to capture the name and the overall appearance of the cemetery. Along with a photography, we advise recording the history of this cemetery including who started it, notable families, and how it has been maintained, and the length of time it was open for burials. Also include driving directions, so others may visit the cemetery as well.

Recording Inscriptions - Some people may share the same plot. These relationships may be parent and child or a married couple. Never assume a marriage relationship unless the words "husband" and "wife" are inscribed on the headstone marker. Record everything on the tombstone, especially exactly how phrases or words are abbreviated. A recordkeeper may mistake a meaning of an abbreviation on a headstone that will throw off the genealogist using this information.

Inquire About Sexton Records - Beware that some sextons may ask you to leave if they discover you are visiting the graveyard as a cemetery transcriber. Therefore, always inquire about sexton records after first transcribing all of the gravestone carvings. The sexton may have an Ariel map of the grave sites, as well as more defined information about each interred such as their occupations, family relationships, cause of death, military affiliations, and last known residences. Never record information about a living relative.

Formulate a map of the plot locations - First ask a sexton for a copy of the map of the cemetery plots in his records. When creating your own cemetery plot map, understand that most older cemeteries are not lined evenly. Form a number each plot and correspond that number with your tombstone transcription records, so others can easily visit the tombstone.

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