Part 2: Researching British Graveyards–Two NEW Guides

Part 2 of this week’s first Genealogy News Sheet:  British Graveyards.  Add these titles to your Summer reading list:

  1. Mytum, Harold.  Recording and Analysing Graveyards.  2000.  Reprinted 2002.  Available Council for British Archaeology.  Bowes Morrell House, 111 Walmgate, York YOI 9WA England UK.  More than 170 pages of research suggestions, drawings and  photographs.
  2. Parker, John.  Reading Latin Epitaphs:  A Handbook for Beginners.  2d. ed.  2000.  Available Cressar Publications, Ludgvan, Penzance, Cornwall TR20 8XG England UK.  a guide for reading the memorials that hang on the walls of churches and cathedrals in the British Isles.

When I saw these two titles on the new book shelf a few weeks ago, I literally shook with excitement.  So rare, a good guide to cemeteries in the British Isles.  There are some.  And they were published in the 1970’s before the internet and digital cameras.  Even before it became fashionable to read cemetery stones and memorials.

And these books did not disappoint me.  Written to aid the person or group who has decided to read all of the stones and record them for use by others, it is the genealogist hunting for personal ancestors that will benefit the most from these instructions.  How grateful we all are when we visit a cemetery and find stones, with still legible inscriptions!

In some graveyards, stones have been removed to accomodate play years for kindergartens or parking lots for parishioners.  In some, only burials within the last 35-50 years are allowed.  The old stones have been destroyed or used a flagstones for walks and walls.

Past generations cared for graveyards, as they contained the memorials and remains of friends and relatives.  In today’s more mobile society, local identity and commitment to place has become eroded;  therefore, it is even more important that historic graveyards should not be forgotten, but treasured as repositories of local culture.

Graveyards, cemeteries, and other monuments offer a unique record of named individuals from the past, and of the communities to which they belonged.  By recording the monuments to these people, we can discover their hopes and fears, social strategies and ambitions, occupations and personal tragedies…It opens up to us a direct link to a significant proportion of the population, the ordinary as well as the elite, allowing us to learn about their lives as well as their deaths. (  Mytum pp. 1-2)

Whether a tombstone erected at the head of the grave, or a ledger slab laid over the grave–both are present in the later 16th and 17th centuries–these stones  summarize  lives.   The slab is more common in Scotland and Ireland.  The headstone is thick and  small, and may only include initials and a date.  And headstones are more common in England and Ireland.  Larger stones may include a coat of arms for socially important families or a battle account  for  a valiant soldier.

Mytum’s volume gives a complete run-down, with checklists of terms and directories of stone and monument types.  What they are made of, how they are positioned on the ground, differences between religious and ethnic stones, burial phrases used, style of type and dates, how they are adorned, origins of art used to embellish the engravings or carvings, and much, much more.

You will love this volume!  You may not be able to put it aside before you want to get in your vehicle and drive to the nearest family cemetery and begin to look for all these details.

Be sure you review Parker’s book and copy out the Latin formula, so you can read the early stones and memorials.  For they follow a pattern too.

And with both volumes tucked into the book pocket which most vehicles now provide, you will be armed when time permits a trip to your family plot.  Your favorite evidence guru, Arlene Eakle.

P.S.  It has been almost a year since this Genealogy News Sheet first appeared.  Be sure to watch for the very special post on 31 July.  And later this week, I will describe an English Record Office that has done much of the hard work, if you are lucky enough to have ancestors from there.  Tune in next time and drool.

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