Saturday, January 20, 2018

Sepia Saturday: Grave Expressions

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.



This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt does my heart good. Cemeteries. Glorious cemeteries! If you’re a family historian, you are required to love cemeteries. It’s a rule, trust me, and I follow it devotedly. Small family cemeteries tucked into a corner of a field or fenced off next to a highway always demand my attention. Large cemeteries are equally fascinating because they represent entire families and communities. I wanted to write about my favorite cemetery, but I just could not slight the others, each of which has its own personality and charm. Instead, let’s look at the symbolic carvings of my relatives’ and ancestors’ tombstones.

ARCHES represent a doorway to salvation as well as being rejoined with a partner in heaven.

John Jollett and Sarah Elizabeth
Smith Jollett
Jollett Cemetery, Page Co, VA
 
Susan Clementine Shiflett
and Austin Morris
Evergreen Cemetery, Greene Co, VA
JohnWesley Rucker
Elk Run Cemetery Elkton, VA






















BIBLE or OPEN BOOK can be the Bible itself reflecting one’s faith and Christian devotion. The Bible is often used on graves of clergy. (Note: there is a Bible in the Jollett tombstone because John was a Methodist minister.) An open book can also suggest a person’s good deeds being recorded in the Book of Life.
Benjamin and Fleeta Davis
Elk Run Cemetery Elkton, VA

The Davis stone combines other symbols including praying hands and flowers.

Ben Davis's sister Cora Davis
Elk Run Cemetery, Elkton, VA
BIRD / DOVE is the messenger of God. A bird in flight represents the soul being transported to heaven. A dove holding an olive branch symbolizes the soul reaching divine peace.

















Mary F. Davis
Elk Run Cemetery
Elkton, VA
BROKEN BUD is used on graves of someone who died an untimely or premature death, usually a young person. In this case, the grave is that of Mary, the sister of Cora and Ben Davis. The graves of Cora and Mary are back to back. 



CHI-RHO (XP) is one of the oldest Christian symbols. The X and P or Chi and Rho are the first two letters in the Greek word for Christ. The symbol is set in a circle which is another motif of gravestones signifying eternal life because circles have no beginning and no end.


Anthony Jacob Henkel
St. Michael's Lutheran Church
Philadelphia, PA






















DOUBLE STONES are an obvious suggestion of being united with a partner in heaven.
 
Richard and Rosa Lee Slade
Olive Branch Cemetery Portsmouth, VA

Margaret and "Jack" Srott
Forest Lawn Cemetery Norfolk, VA
My grandaunt Margaret Killeen Sprott's tombstone combines several symbols in addition to the double stones. The heart is an obvious symbol of love. Margaret's stone includes the Christian cross denoting her Christian faith. Jack's stone includes the square and compass signifying he was a member of the Masons.

FLOWERS represent the brevity of life and sorrow. Some flowers have other specific meanings.

DAFFODIL because it blooms in spring is sometimes used to represent rebirth and resurrection.
Ben and Bertha Knight Shifflett
Evergreen Cemetery, Greene Co, VA

DOGWOOD is symbolic of Christ’s sacrifice (the dark edges on the petal correspond to the blood shed on the cross) and rebirth. Thus it is a resurrection symbol for new life in heaven.

Thelma Hockman and Lacy Sarver
Sunset Cemetery Christiansburg, VA

IVY denotes friendship, fidelity, and rebirth. (Have you ever tried to get rid of ivy in your yard?) 
William J. Sampson
Stanardsville Public Cemetery
Stanardsville, VA

LAUREL is a common symbol of victory and distinction, so in death it denotes victory over death, therefore, immortality.
Annie Eppard
Hensley Cemetery
Rockingham Co, VA

James Henry Jollett
Harriston United Methodist
Church Cemetery

















MORNING GLORY represents the beginning of life. For  Christians, life in heaven is the beginning.


Frank Rucker
Coverstone Cemetery Shenandoah, VA

ROSE is a common symbol on tombstones to represent beauty and fullness of life. It can also indicate that a person died in the prime of life.




SUNFLOWER OR PASSION FLOWER means devotion to Christ. In this tombstone, it is set in a circle, which represents eternal life.
 
Charles W. Eppard
Coverstone Cemetery Shenandoah, VA
LAMB is almost always reserved for graves of children because of its association with purity and innocence.
Daisy Clift
Coverstone Cemetery
Shenandoah, VA
Vernon Clift
Coverstone Cemetery
Shenandoah, VA

















PRAYING HANDS is seen as pious devotion or a request for eternal life.

Russ and Hattie Kohne
Cedar Hill Cemetery Mathias, WV


SQUARE COLUMN usually tells a story. Often one family member is featured on each side, typically a husband and wife. Columns signify a noble life.

Daniel W. Eppard
on the other side
Amanda Eppard
on one side
















Lourenna and Robert Bryan
and son Jeremiah
share this tombstone
Dayton Cemetery Dayton, VA

URN is a typical symbol of death because urns were and still are used to hold ashes of those who have been cremated. The urn therefore suggests the soul and mortality.
 
Hiram Oscar Eppard
a column AND an urn
Methodist  Church Cemetery
Shenandoah, VA
I know you’re just dying to see what others have to say about cemeteries at Sepia Saturday.

Wendy
© 2018, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

30 comments:

  1. Thank you for a very interesting post. I never knew a lot of the symbols. I've always liked reading gravestones (my family think I am weird). A lot of this type of history and tradition is lost these days with most people opting for a cremation with maybe just a plaque on a wall commemorating their life.

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    1. Right. And many people scatter those ashes, so there is no real place to leave a marker.

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  2. Great post Wendy, your ancestors have a wonderful array of headstones! Hugh numbers of my family were buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, though their graves may not be visible in your 'challenge' picture – they were all too poor to have erected a surviving headstone.

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    1. I believe most of my oldest ancestors have only a field stone somewhere in the woods or in a field. Probably most of the stones have been kicked away by animals and unknowing hikers.

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  3. Very Interesting! I never thought about the meaning behind some of the symbols i’ve Seen on graves.

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    1. Hey Paula. Thanks for stopping by. I will be paying more attention to tombstones myself!

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  4. Goodness, I never realised that there were was so much symbolism in cemeteries. I love wandering through old graveyards and reading the inscriptions and now I think I need a ‘what to look for’ information sheet with me next time I’m in UK. Ah, no need, I can look at your very interesting blogpost instead.

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    1. Lots and lots more. If only my ancestors had used hands with fingers pointing up or fingers pointing down, or hands clasped in a handshake, you would be even better prepared for that next cemetery visit.

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  5. Fascinating post about gravestone symbols, many of which I have seen during cemetery visits. Cora's and Mary's stones are particularly poignant and amazingly well preserved.

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    1. Yes, I agree. I like their little stones, sad as they might be.

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  6. What a terrific post explaining all the symbolism in tombstones. Fascinating!

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  7. I have never considered the symbols on graves as being significant but on reflection after reading your post I now think they might be pareticularly for the older ones. I might have to go through some of the photos and see what else the gravestones might be trying to tell me. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Honestly, I think the designs were used on tombstones because of their meaning, but those who purchase the tombstones probably don't think about it much.

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  8. Great post, Wendy! You have a lot of great examples of these symbols.

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    1. Thanks. I didn't realize I had so many either until I started putting this post together. With all the online chatter about organizing your research, I'm thinking I need to create a folder for just tombstones.

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  9. Thanks for compiling such a thorough collection of gravestone symbols, Wendy. Do you think the next generations will have markers with emojis and text-speak?
    :-) LoL

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    1. I think you're on to something. I am sure YOU could create some good ones for musicians. "Here lies So-n-So, fiddling around no more." "Here lies So-n-So, having blown his last note."

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  10. So True Wendy. Every Graveyard Has It's Own Personality.It's Unique Feel.A Collective Atmosphere.
    A Very Special Post.Thank You.

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    1. I know! Some cemeteries make me think, "Who wouldn't want to be buried here?"

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  11. What an interesting post. I think sometimes the surviving family members are expressing their own ideas and relationship with the deceased, rather than showing how that person actually lived and died. So as in all history, it's the survivors who write the stories.

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    1. I agree. In fact, I doubt anyone gives much thought to the design, except for maybe the lamb or an angel on children's tombstones. They pick what the "memorial store" has to offer. That's pretty - I'll take it.

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  12. I had no idea there was so much meaning to the symbols used on tombstones. My goodness. Just goes to prove you can always learn something new no matter how many years you've seen! :) Nice post!

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  13. Fascinating and extremely comprehensive post! I must admit I haven't taken much notice of grave decorations up until now, being usually more concerned with just managing to decipher the inscriptions.

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    1. I hear ya! Frustrating to try to FEEL the words or stand with your head cocked just so in order to capture the light or a shadow for a clue.

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  14. I too enjoyed reading about the meanings behind some of these symbols frequently found on tombstones. My best friend can't understand my enjoyment of meandering around a cemetery looking for my ancestors tombstones!

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  15. It's amazing you have such a variety of symbols on you ancestors' grave markers, Wendy! And you have so many grave stone photographs. I think it's interesting to see the symbols on the markers and try to see why each (especially if unusual or uncommon) was chosen for a specific ancestor.

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    1. In researching tombstone symbols, I found lots of others that were quite interesting making me wish my ancestors had those symbols on their tombstones.

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