Have you ever ever met a genealogist who didn’t love visiting cemeteries? They’re proper up there on most household historian’s lists of favourite haunts – alongside libraries, courthouses, and archives. We love visiting historic locations that present clues to the mysteries of our ancestors’ lives. Cemeteries are stuffed with historical past and, in fact, thriller, together with the fascinating clues and hidden messages in grave marker symbols which can be simply ready to be deciphered.
A grave marker was typically a household’s ultimate — and typically solely — possibility for memorializing their deceased family members. Official very important information that recorded start and demise dates have solely been required within the US for the reason that early twentieth century, and as genealogists effectively know, different sources of information on an individual’s life will be fairly scarce, and even nonexistent.
A marker (typically manufactured from stone however typically different supplies, corresponding to wooden, steel or clay and known as a headstone, tombstone or gravestone) is one report that may probably protect names, start dates, and demise dates for hundreds of years and for future generations to find. And if we’re fortunate, our ancestors’ households added extra clues to how their family members lived in what they selected to incorporate, along with names an dates, on a marker. Whereas typically regarded as solely decorations, particular symbols held very particular which means to the individuals who selected them.
Whereas it’s not possible to doc the which means of each image discovered on graves, most denote an individual’s non secular beliefs, hobbies, social associations, cultural or ethnic backgrounds, civic or fraternal affiliations, lifelong commerce, industrial dealings, political opinions, skilled profession, or navy companies.
Frequent symbols discovered on grave markers
Though most symbols will be traced again to an individual’s endeavors, character, or beliefs, some aren’t indicative of had been fairly frequent solely throughout sure eras, whereas others have endured and are nonetheless used in the present day. However what do these commonly-found photos imply?
Fingers and fingers on a headstone
Fingers and fingers have been included in headstone engravings for hundreds of years, and a few kinds are nonetheless well-liked in the present day. You may discover the next whereas in search of cemetery symbols:
One Hand on a Grave Marker: Typically, meant to depict the hand of God
Praying Fingers: Often related to non secular prayer, however might additionally symbolize obedience, submission, sincerity, repentance, or veneration one’s greater energy
Clasped Fingers/Handshake: Friendship; farewell to earthly life and welcome to heavenly life; or reunion in heaven.
Forefinger Pointing Up: Hope for heaven or a soul’s passage to heaven.
Forefinger Pointing Down: God reaching down for the deceased’s soul.
See the pictures beneath for examples.
Animal photos or sculptures on gravestones
Engravings or precise sculptures of animals are sometimes included in gravestones for explicit causes. For instance:
Lions: Could point out energy, braveness, or bravery of the deceased or could also be meant to shield the grave.
Snakes and Serpents: Traditionally symbols of eternal life; a snake shaped right into a circle signifies eternity (and, by the way, known as an ouroboro).
Horse: Symbolizes braveness and generosity.
Eagle: Stands for braveness, energy, and immortality, however might additionally point out patriotism.
Dragonfly: An emblem of change, transition, lightness, or pleasure.
Frog: Depicts worldly treasures or resurrection.
Butterfly: Symbolizes rebirth, resurrection, or the pure cycle of life and demise.
Dove: Signifies peace, or the deceased at peace.
Lamb: Typically seen on the grave’s of kids, symbolizes innocence and purity
Different commons headstone symbols
Some frequent headstone symbols are intently associated to mortality and demise, whereas some are consultant of an individual’s livelihood.
Urn Lined in Drapes: Urns are the normal receptacles for cremated stays, and urns on gravestones are fairly frequent. An urn coated with a drape or cloth can signify a number of issues: demise’s “ultimate curtain,” a material to guard or guard the ashes, or that the soul has departed the shrouded physique for heaven.
Inverted Torches: Whereas a “right-side-up” burning torch typically represents immortality or eternal life, an upside-down torch signifies the flame of life has been extinguished.
Damaged Column: Any damaged or incomplete monument or engraving — a column, sword, tree, flower, department, or tree stump — usually signifies a life minimize quick.
Rising or Setting Solar: Typically indistinguishable, the rising or setting solar symbolizes an earthly life coming to an finish and resurrection into the following life.
Keys, Arches, or Gates: Both of those can symbolize entrance into heaven, or the transition from earthly life to the afterlife.
Books: If not consultant of the Christian Bible or different non secular textual content, books might point out the deceased was a trainer or scholar.
Navy Insignia: Most symbols of the present Armed Forces are simply recognizable, however you may discover different symbols on older gravestones that point out navy service, together with:
- Southern Cross of Honor (for Confederates who fought within the Civil Conflict)
- Raised Lettering Inside a “Sunken Defend” (for many who fought for the Union)
- Anchor (for sailors)
Non secular headstone symbols
All through the centuries, an individual’s non secular affiliation or private beliefs have been such an essential and integral a part of their lives that symbols of their religion are very often integrated into their gravestones.
Acknowledged emblems of perception
Referred to as “emblems of perception” by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in its Government Headstones and Markers reference document, symbols that signify an individual’s non secular religion are nonetheless in use in the present day on each navy headstones and different grave markers. You may discover related emblems on the non-military and historic graves to point a particular religion.
Listed below are 66 non secular symbols the VA will add to gravestones:
Whereas the VA’s emblems of perception mirror the present symbols that signifying an individual’s faith or perception system, you could discover variations or older representations in your ancestors’ gravestones.
Along with the above, you may discover a few of the following symbols on the gravestones of these of Catholic and different Christian faiths:
Alpha and Omega: The Greek letters Alpha and Omega are the primary and final letters of the Greek alphabet. On gravestones, the letter A and the decrease case ώ or higher case Ω image signify Jesus.
Chi Rho or Chrismon: Chi and Rho are the primary two letters (ΧΡ) of “Christ” in Greek ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ. (Christos). The image for Chi Rho is the letter P intersected by the letter X.
IHS: Early Christians shortened Jesus’ identify by writing the primary three letters of his identify in Greek, ΙΗΣ (from his full identify ΙΗΣΟΥΣ). As a result of the Greek letter Σ (sigma) is written as an S within the Latin alphabet, the headstone image will probably be learn as ΙΗS.
INRI: These initials stand for the Latin phrase “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” or “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews” — the inscription positioned over Christ’s head through the Crucifixion.
Anchor or Cross and Anchor: As a result of hope was related to salvation, Christians typically use the anchor on gravestones to represent the hope that the deceased was “anchored” in heaven.
Celtic Cross: Whereas a cross represents the Christian religion, the ornate celtic cross is frequent in cemeteries throughout Scotland, Eire and Wales and could also be engraved on the gravestones of individuals of Scottish, Irish, or Welsh descent within the US.
Bible: Could signify a non secular lay individual.
Triangle: This image could possibly be used to signify the trinity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. If there’s a watch within the middle of the triangle, it represents the all-seeing, all-knowing God.
Winged Wheel: Could signify the Holy Spirit.
Vines: Evergreen vines might symbolize the Church and its followers, whereas vines with three-sided leaves might signify the Holy Trinity.
Shells: Scallop-shaped shells and clam shells could also be an emblem of an individual’s baptism within the church or their Christian journey by life.
Jewish headstone symbols
Whereas the six-pointed Star of David, which represents divine safety, is the normal image discovered on the headstone of an individual of Jewish religion, different engravings additionally point out Jewish beliefs.
Animals: Animals are intently tied with Jewish naming traditions; thus, the picture of a sure animal on a Jewish headstone might present clues to a nickname or just function a visible illustration of a given identify.
- Lion: Judah, Lieb, Levi, Aryeh,, Loew, or Loeb.
- Deer: Tzvi, Hersh, or Hirsch
- Bear: Dov Ber (a standard compound identify)
- Wolf: Zev, Ze’ev, Wolf, or Vulf
- Chicken: Zipporah, Fayge, or Feige
5 Books: A stack of 5 books on a headstone means the deceased was a scholar or scholar of the Torah.
Menorah: The normal candelabra of the Jewish religion, the menorah on gravestones might signify pious or non secular Jewish girls.
Islamic (Muslim) grave markers
Crescent Moon: A standard image of Islamic religion
Mosque-shaped Marker: Can symbolize piety
Please see this article for a take a look at historic Islamic markers.
Puritan grave marker engravings
A few of the oldest gravestones within the New England space of the USA and past embrace symbols reflecting the beliefs of the Puritan religion. Though Puritanism is just not extensively practiced in the present day, the symbolism utilized in Puritan instances can typically be discovered on gravestones in additional fashionable cemeteries.
Winged Cranium: This represents the flight the soul takes after demise. According to one source, the wealthier sixteenth century Puritans would have a cranium or cranium and crossbones carved on their gravestone as “a bleak reminder of their perception that solely the elect would go to heaven whereas the bulk could be however bones within the floor.”
Coffin, Cranium and Crossbones, or Shovel and Pickaxe: All three are symbols that merely mirror human mortality.
Hourglass: Displays the passage of time
Winged Hourglass: A literal interpretation of the saying, “Time flies,” typically indicating a brief life. Carvings of Father Time or the Grim Reaper are sometimes discovered together with this image.
Scythe: Photographs of the personification of Dying usually embrace a scythe, as Dying is making the “final harvest”
Skeleton or Cranium: Each are anatomical personifications of demise
Cemeteries are sometimes identified for his or her lush landscaping: Flowers, bushes, and manicured lawns contribute to the sense of peace to be discovered among the many useless. Nevertheless, many of those nature-related symbols are additionally discovered on gravestones, and should have vital meanings.
Bushes: A tree of indistinguishable species typically signifies the “tree of life,” an emblem meaning longevity in lots of cultures. Particular kinds of bushes maintain different meanings:
- Olive Department, Tree, or Leaf: Peace, good intentions, longevity, fertility, or prosperity.
- Weeping Willow Tree and Urn: Grief and immortality.
- Evergreen Tree: Remembrance and faithfulness.
- Oak: Power, sturdy religion, manliness, honor, or steadfastness.
- Dogwood: Christianity, divine sacrifice, resurrection.
Bouquet of Flowers: Like these positioned on a grave to acknowledge the deceased, a bouquet of flowers inscribed on the stone affords condolences to the household. Within the nineteenth century, a bundle of flowers was additionally a sign of affection. Particular kinds of flowers maintain different meanings:
- Lotus Flower, Water Lily, or Lily of the Valley: Rebirth and reawakening.
- Lily: Purity, love, innocence and goodness.
- Morning Glory: Youth and love.
- Poppy: Dying or everlasting sleep.
- Rose: Real love or romantic love, or, relying on the picture of the bloom itself (a bud, half bloomed, damaged) might symbolize the demise of a kid or younger individual. Two intertwined roses could also be discovered on the shared stone of a pair.
Fruit: An assortment of fruit engraved in a gravestone might symbolize the plentiful abundance of the afterlife, whereas particular fruits might have their very own meanings:
- Pineapples: Hospitality, prosperity, or everlasting life.
- Pomegranates: Nourishment of the soul.
- Grapes: Blood of Christ, God’s care, or the Final Supper
- Grapes with Leaves: Christian religion.
- 4-Leaf Clover: Could signify Irish ancestry or membership within the 4-H Membership, an American youth group.
Corn: Corn might imply that the deceased was a farmer.
Wheat: A sheaf of wheat might symbolize the “finish of the harvest” for a mature man who led an extended, productive life.
Fern: Photographs of ferns might point out humility, sincerity, and solitude.
Ivy: This evergreen creeping vine, when discovered on a headstone, represents immortality, friendship, or eternal life.
Wreath or Garland: Forming a vine, flowers, or greenery right into a circle usually symbolizes victory, distinction, or everlasting life. A laurel wreath, particularly, could also be discovered on the headstone of somebody who excelled in athletics, arts, or literature.
Symbols typically engraved on gravestones of infants or kids
A few of the most heartbreaking gravestones in any cemetery are these which can be immediately acknowledged as belonging to a child, baby, or younger individual. Whereas most of those symbols are fairly frequent, you could not notice that others discuss with a life that ended too quickly. They embrace:
- Lambs (for innocence, the Lamb of God, or a baby of God)
- Rosebuds (for a life that by no means bloomed)
- Adjoining Rosebuds (for a mom and baby who died on the identical time)
- Cherubs (to information the kid to heaven)
- Child sneakers, cradles, or chairs (empty or overturned as a result of the kid has handed away)
- Daisy (for the innocence of a kid)
- Sleeping baby (typically utilized in Victorian period)
Initials typically discovered on gravestones
Generally cemetery explorers will discover stones engraved with initials that don’t essentially match these of the deceased. These acronyms typically have non secular meanings or mirror an affiliation with a selected group.
RIP: Relaxation in Peace, from the unique Latin “requiescat in tempo.”
FLT: “Friendship, Love, Fact” are three levels related to the Impartial Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal group first established in America within the early 1800s. A quantity with these initials might mirror the precise Odd Fellows lodge to which the deceased belonged. The initials are sometimes accompanied by a three-link chain and an all-seeing eye, much like the symbols of Freemasons.
FCL: “Fraternity, Charity, Loyalty,” which had been the mottos of each the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil Conflict and the Girls of the Grand Military of the Republic hereditary organizations.
Ok of C: Signifies membership within the Knights of Columbus, a worldwide Catholic service group based within the Eighties.
FCB: “Friendship, Charity, Benevolence” are the values of the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal group established in 1864 for governmental clerks.
BPOE: Reveals membership within the Benevolent and Protecting Order of Elks fraternal group, generally referred to as the Elks.
Emblems of fraternal organizations
Though a deceased individual’s affiliation with a fraternal group will be mirrored on a headstone with initials, as described above, some additionally use the group’s official symbols.
Freemasons: Membership in a Masonic Lodge is most frequently indicated on a headstone by the instruments of the mason’s commerce, together with a compass, ruler, and a sq.. These instruments are sometimes accompanied by the letter “G” for God and geometry, stars, a solar, an all-seeing eye, or the letters ITNOTGAOTU, as seen within the final picture beneath, which stands for “In The Title Of The Nice Architect Of The Universe.” To be taught extra about Masonic symbols and beliefs, visit this Masonic Education website.
Impartial Order of Odd Fellows: Affiliation with this fraternal group is commonly represented on gravestones with some symbols much like freemasonry’s, just like the all-seeing eye. The image used most frequently is three chain hyperlinks (which stand for friendship, love and fact).
Woodmen of the World (WOW): Membership on this fraternal group, which was based in 1883 and is in the present day is best identified for its major objective as an insurance coverage supplier, typically included a WOW-hosted burial ritual and the installment of a particular WOW headstone. Most Woodmen gravestones are simply identifiable in a cemetery as they’re formed like bushes or sawed-off tree stumps, as proven within the picture beneath. They might additionally embrace the Woodmen motto “Dum, Tacet Clamat” (or “Although Silent He Speaks”) someplace alongside an edge or border.
Time to start out deciphering
Stroll by any cemetery — fashionable, historic, or someplace in between — and also you’re certain to seek out gravestones with symbols simply begging to be deciphered. Even in the event you’ve visited an ancestor’s grave dozens of instances, recognizing and understanding the hidden messages within the symbols on their headstone might open up an entire new aspect into their lives!
By Patricia Hartley
#Grave #Marker #Symbols