Information can be gleaned from the words carved on headstones, and we can learn a great deal concerning the family relationships from the placement of a grave within the cemetery.
Artwork and symbols found on the headstones can also provide more clues about this ancestor and their life, ideals, associations etc.
Most symbols engraved on a stone have a textbook meaning, although it is possible that the particular item you find engraved on the headstone is simply there because someone liked the look of it.
Many who choose grave motifs have no idea that the ornamentation they select has meaning.
Click on the blue highlighted link for examples and more information about the meaning of the headstone
Adam and Eve with serpent or fruit means a quick death
Arches means victory in death.
Arrows means mortality.
Bamboo means Buddha.
Bird Flying means Resurrection.
Birth means Eternal Life.
Books may be open or closed.
Bouquets or flowers are for condolences, Grief or Sorrow.
Broken Chains represent Family ties broken.
Broken Ring means the family circle is severed.
Buds or Rosebuds are for the Morning of Life or renewal of life.
Bugles mean Resurrection or the Military.
Butterfly means short lived or early death.
Candles represent the spirit of the soul.
Candles being snuffed mean Time or Mortality.
Castles are the reference to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Chains bound the soul to the body.
Chalice or Cup represent the sacraments.
Clock is the symbol of the Passage of Time.
Clothing draped over the headstone
Columns represent the head of the family.
Corn can depict the occupation as a farmer, or mean the Ripe old Age.
Cross represents Christianity.
Crossed Swords are a High-ranking Military Person.
Daisy is for the Innocence of a child.
Darts for Mortality.
Dogs often appear at the feet of medieval women signifying loyalty.
Dogwood means Christianity, divine sacrifice.
Dove is for Innocence, Gentleness, Affection, Purity.
Dragon is an emblem of Imperial Power.
Figures with Darts represent Killed.
Flame or light mean Life or Resurrection.
Flower with a severed stem represent a Shortened Life or Fragility of Life.
Fruits represent eternal plenty.
Full Bloomed Rose means death in the prime of life.
Garland or Wreath are for the Victory in Death.
Gates or Doors are the Heavenly Entrance.
Grim Reaper is Death Personified.
Hand of God Chopping means Sudden Death.
Hand Pointing Up is the Pathway to Heaven or Heavenly Reward.
Hands Clasped are for the Good-byes said at Death.
Hands Praying are asking for God for Eternal Life.
Hands blessing are a blessing for those left behind.
Handshake is a Farewell to earthly existence
Harp represents Praise to God.
Heart means Love, Love of God, Mortality.
Holly means protection of Tombs and other monuments from lightning strikes.
Horns represent the Resurrection.
Imps mean Mortality.
Ivy means friendship and immortality.
Laurel is for Fame or Victory.
Lily or Calla Lily
Lion is for Courage.
Mariogolds form the trail to lead the souls of the dead to a home alter.
Mistletoe believed to be a sacred plant.
Morning Glory is the Beginning of Life.
Oak Leaves and Acorn
Oak Tree is believed to have been the tree from which Jesus' cross was made.
Open Book or Bible represents the Deceased, Teacher or Minister.
Pall A cover for a coffin, bier, or tomb, often made of black, purple, or white velvet represents Mortality.
Palm represents success, eternal peace.
Palm Beach is for Victory and Rejoicing.
Pick means Death or Mortality.
Pine- the cone ensures the perpetuity of life's renewal.
Portals are the Passageway to Eternity.
Resurrection Scene is for Hope for a Renewed Life in Death.
Rod or Staff is Comfort for the Bereave.
Rooster is the Awakening, Resurrection.
Roses are the Berivity of Early Existence.
Rosemary means remembrance.
Sacred Heart of Jesus represents the suffering of Jesus for our sins.
Scroll a symbol of Life and Time.
Scythe means the Death of the Devine Harvest.
Seashells mean Resurrection, Life Everlasting, Life's Pilgrimage.
Severed Branch means Mortality.
Sheaf of Wheat means Ripe for Harvest, Divine Harvest Time.
Spade and Shovel Crossed mean Mortality.
Star and Star of David is typically used as a symbol of Judaism.
Sun Rising means Renewed Life.
Sun Setting means Death.
Sun Shining is for Life Everlasting.
Thistles mean Remembrance.
Torch means the eternal flame.
Torch Upright is for Life Everlasting.
Torch Inverted means Life Extinct.
Tree Sprouting is Life Everlasting.
Tree means Life.
Tree Stump means Life Interrupted.
Tree Stump with Ivy means the Head of the Family, Immortality.
Tree Trunk Leaning is for Short Interrupted Life.
Trumpeters Heralds the Ressurection.
Urn represents Immortality and life will be restored.
Urn with Blaze means Undying Friendship.
Urn with Wreath or Crepe represent Mourning.
Weeping Willow Tree means Sorrow, Grief, Nature's Lament.
Willows are Earthly Sorrow.
Then there are the symbols that represent the occupation of the deceased.
Bible– a minister of religion
Compass - shipwright
Anchor a mariner
Compass and Ruler represents a Freemason
A stalk of corn represents a farmer
A wedge and level – a mason
Scales represent a merchant.
A Crown, hammer and anvil – a blacksmith.
During a visit to a cemetery take time to appreciate the beauty and workmanship involved in carving these intricate designs.
The stonecutter was an artist, and some of the sculptures you’ll find in cemeteries are as beautiful as are found in the finest museums.