Doing look-ups for people I've met on the 'Net and researching my own family tree have prompted several visits to cemeteries during the past few years. As a young person growing up, I had almost no occasion to go and pay tribute to the deceased. My family lived far from the places where our late relatives had been laid to rest. No close relatives died during my youth. Perhaps this paucity of grief-filled memories associated with graveyards has left me able to experience cemeteries in a very positive way.
I have been spending more time at cemeteries recently; some Onondaga County USGenWeb volunteers, including myself, have set ourselves the goal of making lists of all the persons buried at each county cemetery available to users of our site. Those researching their families, and we, have to be aware of our limits. Our efforts to produce searchable lists can be complicated when a cemetery is no longer active and/or does not have accessible rosters of those buried there. Some have written rosters which are incomplete or contain errors. Some cemeteries are so large, truly "cities of the silent", that despite our best efforts, it will take many months to complete their listings. For some inactive cemeteries, we have no choice but to obtain the information from records others have kept, and even visiting the sites, observing each individual stone, recording the information there, and transcribing it. Some stones have become difficult or impossible to read over the course of time. We must be grateful to our late colleagues who shared this interest, especially William Martin Beauchamp, Leslie E. Voorhees, Clyde B. Wood and Leon M. Peters, whose work recording cemetery data in prior decades has left us valuable records.
The visits to cemeteries I've made for this project have been surprisingly rewarding and fascinating. They've turned me into an avid taphophile! (Taphophiles are lovers of cemeteries as cultural artifacts.) Though I have lived here for almost nineteen years, I've come to a better sense of Onondaga County's history and culture during these forays. It's been gratifying to be able to help others piece together the puzzles of their families.
I have felt privileged to be allowed to experience some of what the loss of these family members and friends has meant to those left behind, as depicted in words and images on graveyard monuments. Sometimes the circumstances and sentiments are spelled out.
•Edwin J., infant son of John and Hellen Conway
died May 29, 1869, ae 10 mos
Our Little Eddie
Like the flower of springtime Eddie
Quickly blossomed and passed away
For that flower so fair as Eddie
Could not make so long a stay
Then he left us, quietly left us
For a nobler sphere above
Mourn not then for little Eddie
Is waiting to welcome you above
•Farewell dear mother, we mourn thy loss
•Husband and children bear her in tender regard
•Daniel A., son of Solomon and Florella Wheeler,
died Sep. 22, 1869 in his 1st year;
Florella G., wife of Solomon Wheeler, died Oct. 2, 1869,
in her 30th year
[ten days after her son]
“One child was laid in earth
Before the mother died
and one left with the father
by the fire side”
•Minnie, daugh. of F.H. and Emma Chapman,
Jan. 23, 1890 - Aug. 30, 1891
•None knew thee but to love thee
•Children of Warren and Emma Kinney: Warren died Feb. 27, 1890,
ae 8 - 6 - 14; Ralph, died Feb. 25, 1890, ae 6 - 5 - 5
[two brothers, two days apart]
Two little treasures beneath the sod now calmly rest
Two spotless souls, ascended to our God, are sweetly blest
Two precious darlings wait for us in heaven, two angels fair
O Father grant these __?__ thee given may guide us there
Sometimes the sentiment is more subtly shown, but the caring descendant or conscientious research-helper can decipher it nonetheless. There are stonesutterly strong and simple, giving perhaps only a name and dates of birth and death;
•Cora B. Chapman 1875 - 1960
there are stones ornate and detailed, offering the story, if condensed, of someone's life.
•The grave of Rev. Daniel M. Chandler, who died Oct. 2, 1838 in the 29th year of his age. An ardent devoted missionary among the Chippewas at Kanawenon and Sault de St. Marie from June 1834 to Sept. 1838. On a respite from his labors for the recovery of his health, died at Jorden [sic; perhaps nearby Jordan, NY]. A noble soldier in the cause of truth, he has fallen early in her defence
On some stones, the information is as sharp and readable as the date the monument was placed, whether a week or a century ago. On others, acid rain, the wear and tear of the elements in central New York in general, and even vandalism have made obscure what once was clear. Different materials for headstones have been used over the years, chosen with such factors in mind as cost, durability, aesthetics, availability, and ease of workability as the craftsman's raw material. Granite, marble, cement or other processed-stone materials, zinc or "white bronze", and slate have been among the substances most commonly used in our area.
As one makes repeated visits to cemeteries in Onondaga County, the older and newer ones, one observes styles characteristic to the times in which the deceased died, symbols engraved on the headstones, and patterns characteristic of certain religious or ethnic groups within the community. Note that occasionally a monument is put up some time, possibly even a significant passage of years, after the loved one died. Its style may, then, reflect the time it was placed, not necessarily the time the deceased died. You will see a great many of the styles, customs and symbols discussed here depicted in the Gravestone Gallery, the photo display accompanying this article. Many are quite beautiful, veritable works of art. Like the crayoned drawings we offered lovingly to Mommy years ago, brought home for her from first grade, we offer a last lovely gift of art to her in stone, to endure through the years to come.
Recalling Grandma's pride in her D.A.R. heritage, we make note of its importance at her final resting place. Gratitude for Great-Grandpa's military service didn't die with him; we can honor the role he played to win the peace we enjoy today for all passing by to view, with a remembrance at the cemetery. Uncle's faith was central to his daily life; this can be symbolized where he is buried. Dad was one of a kind, no disputing that; perhaps an image depicting his favorite hobby, or an out-of-the-ordinary style of engraving or shape of gravestone would most suitably pay tribute to him. Author Patrica Polacco relates that when her mother was a child, a meteorite fell in her front yard. Word spread, and people came from far and wide to view and touch it. When Patricia's grandmother died, the family placed the meteorite as a family headstone at Riverside Cemetery in Michigan.
Strange things also happen as years pass; cemeteries, sad to say, may be moved and the deceased relocated in new graves, and/or the land put to other use. It is said that in recent years, at one cemetery (not local), the citizens regretted not having buried the deceased in family plots, but in random order -- and the solution implemented was to move headstones to effect "family plots", without moving the corresponding remains! It is not unheard of for a person to be buried but, for one reason or another, to have no headstone.
Perhaps grief over loss of a person who never reached adulthood or otherwise died in an especially tragic way is the most keen; we may find a way to begin to move through the grieving process, yet never let his or her memory die, by finding a unique sort of memorial to place where we have left his mortal remains and with them a piece of our hearts. Gravestones have included ceramic-based photos of the departed. We may leave mementos at the site -- flowers, a note or birthday card, baseball cards, a toy, or other favorite possession.
People who cherish particular ethnic or religious heritages may follow traditional mourning and memorial practices. Many observant Jews reject embalming and cremation. On the one-year anniversary of the death, they may light a yarzeit candle in memory of the deceased. These yarzeit candles have a special candleholder that is used only for this purpose. After the funeral, some survivors never return to the cemetery to visit the gravesite, dead bodies being considered ritually unclean. Placing a photograph of the deceased on his memorial would be forbidden for Orthodox Jewish believers.
Many Christians have a cross engraved on their cemetery monuments. The person of Irish heritage might choose the Celtic cross as the shape of the stone itself or as a symbol to be engraved on the marker.
When I visited the cemetery of the Ukrainian Orthodox church in Syracuse's western suburbs, I observed that on most graves, flower beds had been planted over the entire length of the gravesite. I asked Rev. Victor Sokolov, rector of Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in San Francisco, whether this was a common Orthodox custom. He replied, "Yes, and more: in Russia the cemeteries are *always* located in forests or coves, and it is a custom to plant a tree or a bush on the grave of a deceased relative." I observed that several tombstones display engraving in Roman letters and in Cyrillic, tribute to both cultures in which Ukrainian-Americans take part. They often feel strong ties to their fatherland. On such markers as that of the Diachenko family (you can view this marker in the Gravestone Gallery accompanying this article), you'll see both types of lettering. On the lower central part of that headstone, we also see the symbol known as the tryzub. One web site on Ukrainian culture gives this interpretation:
The Tryzub (Trident), Triytsia (Trinity) or Trysuttia (Three-Substances) is an ancient Ukrainian religious (pre-christian), national and state symbol. Nowadays it is the official Coat of arms of Ukraine. It was also the state symbol of Ukrainian Peoples' Republic (1917-1920) and Kyiv Rus' (8th-13th century) since King Volodymyr the Great. But this sign has much deeper roots. The symbol variations are present in the number of cultures and religions influenced by Oriana-Ukraina including the most European and some of the Middle East cultures both modern and antique. Tryzub is one of the basic universal symbols meaning three substances forming the Universe: astral water - the female basis (right part of the Tryzub or the blue color on Ukrainian national flag), astral fire - the male basis (left part of the Tryzub or the gold color) and the Child - the Universe itself (the middle part of the Tryzub). All three in the unbreakable unity. "
On several stones in this cemetery, we observe the use of the Orthodox Cross. The entire stone may be in this shape, or the cross may be carved onto the stone. One source explains: "The three-barred cross is explained thus: top -- inscription; central -- armpiece; lower -- footrest. The last is slanted to indicate that of the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus, one repented and went to Paradise and the other did not. Thus, when we view the Cross, we are asked to make a decision about Jesus."
When we visit the cemetery where we have placed our loved ones' remains,
we can recall the love and the good times together, all that we owe our
loved ones, often our very life itself. We can repent for, and we
can forgive, the difficult times, the opportunites missed. For some,
time there may include moments for prayer, or for feeling present to the
loved one. We may have a sense of bringing happy news to him, or
a sense of asking her for advice and support -- the things we might have
shared had they still been with us in life. Sometimes the visits
to the cemetery bring feelings of hurt; sometimes, of healing; and, often,
Why Do People Visit Cemeteries?
by Joel Gazis-Sax, email@example.com
To leave flowers
To pay their respects
To look at the tombstones
To have some quiet time
To take a quiet stroll
To take photographs
To look for the graves of the famous
To do a little impromptu gardening
To enjoy the fresh air and the decorations on the graves
To do tombstone rubbings
To have a good chuckle over a clever epitaph
To do genealogical research
To realize that when we're dust, today's problems will seem minute
To console oneself in the company of the dead.
To glimpse the big picture.
To contemplate Time.
This is a morbid pastime???
Quite a number of cemeteries in our county were established in the early to middle 19th century. Marble and granite were among the most commonly used materials for headstones. I had never seen slate headstones before beginning my local expeditions, but slate has proven to hold up amazingly well to the elements, perhaps due to its particular physical and chemical composition. For example, it appears generally to be much less vulnerable to acid rain and the stresses of inclement weather than is marble. Marble sometimes wears unevenly within a given slab, so that pronounced veins or pits of erosion may be observed, as well as deterioration at the edges of the stone or of the lettering.
The effects of the elements, as well as the varying lettering styles used, often more than one style on a given stone, can make reading an older gravestone a challenge. It may surprise you, but on a well-worn stone, it may be difficult to tell whether a numeral is a 1 or a 4, a 3 or an 8. Unfamiliar terms used on 19th century monuments, and the giving of some first names then which are no longer popular, can make it less than apparent to the present day observer what is carved there. Does that stone say "relict"? What does that mean? Does that last line start with " Æ " ? What's the meaning of F.L.T.? Of G.A.R.? Was Great-Great-Aunt Polly's baby who died so young Hubert or Herbert? Was her neighbor really named Experience, and that woman's husband named Peleg?
Let me share with you what I've learned. In addition to the following, a number of good web sites and materials at your library can familiarize you with terms and symbols. They may offer techniques for safely reading even worn or soiled headstones as best one is able without causing further damage. The well-respected site Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet will lead you to many helpful resources. I strongly recommend, as well, City of the Silent. You can also look up whatever aspects of cemeteries interest you on search engines.
Here is a list of the meanings of some terms and symbols seen on headstones. Some of the symbols were more commonly in use in the 19th century. Be aware that there may be some variability in the meaning of an image according to the era or to different individuals. The asterisked symbols, in my experience, are images most frequently used by our forebears in this county. I also welcome additions or corrections to this list. The accompanying photographs will be informative and will bring you a glimpse of the beauty of gravestones observed around Onondaga County, both the classic and the unusual, the old and the new.
Meanings of carvings, compiled from several sources:
|Arches||Victory in death|
|*Bouquets/Flowers||Condolences, grief, sorrow|
|*Buds/Rosebud||Morning of life or renewal of life|
|*Roses||Brevity of earthly existence|
|Portals||Passageway to eternal journey|
|Bugles||Resurrection; also, the military|
|Crossed Swords||High-ranking military person|
|Flying Birds||Flight of the Soul|
|Garlands||Victory in death|
|Shells||Pilgrimage of Life|
|Clouds||Veil which conceals God from his worshipers|
|Sun or rays||the presence of Christ; the sun connotes resurrection|
|star||guidance for the soul|
|Trees||symbolic of life or death depending on whether theyappear alive or felled|
|Trumpeters||Heraldsof the Resurrection|
|Morning Glory||Beginningof Life|
|Butterfly||Short-lived; Early Death; Resurrection|
|*Full-Blown Rose||Prime of Life Palm|
|Branch||Signifies Victory and Rejoicing|
|Ivy||Friendship and Immortality|
|Laurel||Fame or Victory|
|Oak Leaves & Acorn||Maturity, RipeOld Age|
|*Weeping Willow, sometimes with urn, tomb, and/or mourner||Emblem of Sorrow|
|Corn||Ripe Old Age|
|Sheaf of Wheat||Ripe forHarvest, Divine Harvest, Time|
|Dove||Innocence, Gentleness, Affection, Purity|
|*Cross||Emblem of faith|
|Anchor/Ships||Hope, or seafaring profession|
|Broken Ring||Family Circle Severed|
|Broken Column||Loss of Head of Family|
|Torch Inverted||Life Extinct|
|Urn with Blaze||Undying Friendship|
|Harp||Praise to the Maker|
|*Handshakes/Clasped hands||Farewell; often shown on spouses' stone(s)|
|*Hand with index finger pointing upward||hope for/awareness of heaven,God, eternal destiny|
|Hearts||Love for the deceased; Soul in Bliss or Love of Christ|
|Hourglass||Swiftness of Time|
|*Open Book/Bible||Deceased Teacher, Minister, etc.; knowledge|
|Lily or Lily of Valley||Emblem of Innocence and Purity|
|*Tree Stump, sometimes w/Ivy||Head of Family; Immortality; life cut short. The Millious family marker at Elbridge Rural Cemetery (see photos), about ten feet tall, is an extraordinary example of this style|
|*Urn, perhaps with Wreath, often draped in crepe||Mourning|
|Stars & Stripes Around Eagle||Eternal Vigilance, Liberty Hourglass, perhaps with|
|Wings of Time||Time Flying; Short Life. Its use associated with personified figures of Death and Father Time comes out of a long tradition of mortuary symbolism. Rarely used alone, usually appearedalong with hearts, stars, leaves and sacred flowering vines; it was also the frequent companion of winged death's heads and bones|
|Candle being Snuffed||Time, mortality Coffin, Father Time,|
|Picks/Shovels, Darts||Mortality palls, skulls, skeletons|
|and bones||the passing away of the flesh, items used surrounding its entombment, and the inevitability of death|
|Hand of God Chopping||Sudden Death|
|Winged Effigies||Flight of the Soul|
|*American Flag on stone, or small flag placed beside stone||usually, military service; patriotism|
|Christ, Virgin Mary, Saint, Angel||devotion to that holy figure; desire for their aid to attain heave|
|crown||honors glorified souls and angels, or points to the triumph of death, when it caps a winged skull. Sometimes juxtaposed with cross; indicates that life includes suffering, and the afterlife, victory.|
|*Geometry Compass, in open position, often shown over open book, with letter "G" within angle of compass; star with letters "O.E.S." between its points||Masonic affiliation|
|A.E.F.||American Expeditionary Forces|
|D.A.R./S.A.R.||Daughters/Sons of the American Revolution|
|The letters F.L.T. in three links of a chain||Friendship, Love, and Truth. It is the symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization. In this day and time, its name may sound like, well, something it isn't. This organization takes care of widows and orphans, and in general, does good works.|
|G.A.R.||Grand Army of the Republic; the Union Army during the War Between the States.|
|P. of H.||Patrons of Husbandry; a Grange affiliation|
|IHS||signifies devotion to Jesus Christ; variously interpreted as an abbreviation for His name as spelled in ancient languages, or of the Latin phrase Iesu Hominum Salvator (Jesus, mankind's Savior). Occasionally seen as IXC.|
|æ ; "a" and "e" next to one another or touching||an abbreviation for "aged", as in "died May 13, 1864, æ 54 yrs 1 month"|
.Headstones offering several lines of verse -- of mourning, remembrance,
tribute, encouragement or prayer -- were also common in the mid-19th century.
As the folks at the web site for Broderbund's Family Tree Maker software wisely say, and of which we see many examples in Onondaga County's older cemeteries, "[C]emeteries can be excellent sources of genealogical information.... Using cemetery records and gravestones, you could find an individual's birth and death dates, and perhaps information about military service. Sometimes you will discover epitaphs that give you insight into the individual's sense of humor, ideas about death, or even the way other people felt about him or her.
If you are having trouble locating an individual's parents, children, or spouse, you can often find information about them, too. Some gravestones have inscriptions such as "Beloved child of..." or "Beloved parent of...," which give you clues to the names of other ancestors. An even better find is a family plot. By locating the burial place of one relative, you may also find the graves of several other relatives. All in all, if you are unable to locate vital records for some of your ancestors, a cemetery may be a good second place to check.
[I have experienced the truth of these comments on cemeteries as sources
of genealogic data first-hand. Their gravestones are the ONLY place
I've found mention of the specific birthplaces of my ancestors who came
from Ireland, persons who died before my grandparents were old enough to
remember, and so could not give us this information in person. My
living relatives had no idea this information was recorded there; living
in other states, they had not visited this cemetery. You will see
outstanding examples of the above mentioned "genealogical clues" and other
very useful and interesting information on a number of local gravestones.
A few even spell out their family genealogy per se! ----F.M.]
You may not actually need to visit a cemetery in order to look at cemetery
records and gravestones. Many of these records have been transcribed.
Funeral homes also keep records about the individuals that they take care
of. Some just keep the basic information about birth and death dates, but
others go much more in depth. You can sometimes find information about
the individual's family, occupation, and even insurance information.
---------© Copyright 1996-98, Broderbund Software, Inc. All rights reserved. "
You'll see quite a number of "informative" cemetery monuments in the photos in the Gravestone Gallery accompanying this article. They offer concise family history stories, perhaps fascinating details hitherto unknown. Right here in Onondaga County, I have seen gravestones noting one woman's birth in "Norway, Europe"; another was "from New Hampshire". A man from a family living in the Otisco area, where his gravestone is found, was "born Jan. 12, 1896 at Syracuse; killed in action Oct. 14, 1918, Argonne Forest, France"; his plaque clarifies his life's events and elicits wistfulness in even strangers. I've seen individuals memorialized by cenotaphs, literally, "empty tombs"; tribute may be paid in a previous town of residence, although the deceased is actually, like one local woman, "buried in Rockford, ILL." or wherever the case may be. One of the most unusual stones I'd ever seen reads
In memory of T. DuBois Hall, who died on his passage to California May 31, 1850, & was buried in the Pacific, Lat. 5, Lon. 101, Aged 26 yrs." [Elbridge Rural Cemetery, one of the county's most beautiful and historic.]
Another westward bound traveller's tombstone reminds us of the geographical and transportation realities of his era, of the history of our area. He died at Albany, NY, on his way back from California to Elbridge, NY. Huh?? Well, in 1850, we had no planes, no transcontinental railroad, no Panama Canal. Very likely, he sailed both to and from California, around Cape Horn, and was taking the historic nearby Erie Canal from the Port of New York back to Onondaga County, meeting his death where the Hudson River lying north-south meets the Canal, bringing travellers east-west.
Have you had trouble figuring out exactly how great-aunt Amanda Churchill fit into your line? Wonder no longer, her next of kin thoughtfully have provided the clue you needed, literally written in stone:
Amanda, daughter of David and Polly Willard
and wife of James Churchill, died Dec. 2, 1845
[Amber Cemetery, Otisco, NY]
Of course, it would be wise to cross-check any data found on a monument with other sources, in case of error, misreading or illegibility. The next stone gives you information you may not have known about your ancestor, AND her birth order, her husband, and her father's faith-community involvement:
N. Ann, wife of D.B. Darrow and youngest daughter of Dea. Eber Gaylord, died Jan. 29, 1861, ae 29 yrs.
[Cowles Cemetery, Otisco]
Using some imagination and detective skills can help flesh out your
family's story, from what you learn on gravestones. Are there first-name
patterns to be seen throughout the generations of your family? Is
there a link between two families in which a child in one family has, as
a first name, the surname of another family buried nearby? Might
a unique first name, appearing in two families' plots, be a clue to a link
between them? (A daughter of the Munro family and a wife in the Garrison
family of Elbridge are each named Czarina, for example.) A mother
and her adult son died two weeks apart; could this have happened
during an epidemic? From injuries sustained in a fire or accident?
Two young siblings died in quick succession; imagine what this meant to
great-grandmother, barely settled in her new homeland and already stressed
by the conditions during the Great Depression. Twenty people in one
cemetery all died during the very same week back in 1870. Could it
have been an especially severe winter? A local calamity, such as
a flood or accident? What gravestones say about the deceased and
about those who loved them is as varied as the people themselves.
You may enjoy and learn from your observations of gravestones from the
early 19th century to the present in this virtual tour displaying monuments,
some typical, some unique. We salute these loved ones who have gone
before us, and those who courageously carried on, surviving their loss,
to sustain our families so that we might come to this day.
This article brings to our attention an aspect of cemetery culture we may not have considered. It first appeared in the Syracuse Herald American newspaper on Sunday, July 26, 1998, and is used with the permission of the writer, Mr. Hart Seely of the staff of the Syracuse Newspapers.
Call it a low-tech version of the Year 2000 computer glitch -- or just another upcoming, turn-of-the-century pain in the butt, like needing new checkbooks. But makers of burial monuments will soon face a hassle their forebears never anticipated: Clients who outlive the inscription on their tombstones.
"When the year 2000 comes, we're going to run into it," said Karl Lutz III, whose grandfather founded the Syracuse-based Karl Lutz Monument Co. 66 years ago. "We'll go to the cemetery to put somebody's date (of death) on the stone, and it's already going to say '19.' "
Yes, that once sure thing -- the "19-something" year of death carved into the granite faces of countless headstones -- will have to be somehow made into a "20."
Many who pre-purchsed their burial markers didn't expect to see the new millenium. Why should they?
In 1900, an American woman lived to an average age of 48. Today, her average life span runs 79 years. Male life expectancy since 1900 has jumped to 72 from 46, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Back in 1960, a 50-year-old woman could expect to live another 23 years, according to the averages. But with scores of people age 90 or older facing the 21st century, an unknown number of gravestones must be recarved.
As any school kid knows, changing "19" to "20" on paper is simple: Just finagle the 1 with a few penstrokes and smear a circle over the 9, and you're done. But it's different when the numbers are, so to speak, carved in stone.
"It can be fixed," said Greg Sloane of Valley Monuments and Memorials of Syracuse. "Can it be fixed perfectly? No."
To fix it, carvers fill the "19" with an epoxy of stone dust, let it harden, then inscribe a "20" onto the surface. But there's a trick to it, because the "1" is skinny, and the "2" is fat.
"The key will be spacing," said Robert O'Connor of O'Connor Memorials in Brewerton. "The centering might be a little tight."
The markers carrying pre-carved "19s" were purchased long ago. Since the early 1970s, most memorial builders stopped inscribing "19" for death dates. And nobody plans to start inscribing "20." [although I have observed at least one such marker already. --- F.M.]
"I just don't think that's a smart move," said Glenn M. Candee of Sweet-Woods Memorial Co. in Phoenix [NY]. "You know, for a lot of people, that's like the beginning of the end. They don't want to see the beginning of their death year."
At Walser Monument Inc. in Syracuse, owner Barbara Molvar leafed through a 2-inch-thick binder showing hundreds of monument sales during the 1960s. Only a handful showed "19" inscribed on the stone. But one stone, carved for a former owner of the company, sat in the showroom. She hadn't even noticed it.
"It's funny how only when your awareness gets raised do you see something," Molvar said.
As Molvar studied the massive ledger, painstakingly written by previous owners, a darker potential problem loomed for Jan. 1, 2000:
She keeps her records on computer.
25 October 1998