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Genealogy and Headstones

By Anne Bradshaw, Author of “True Miracles with Genealogy,” Volumes One and Two.

Since the age of ten or eleven, I’ve had a fondness for walking around cemeteries, gazing at the great variety of headstones, and wondering how the dead people might have looked, talked, and lived when alive. Family and school friends thought I was odd, and I spent my days with the dead on my own. I couldn’t convince anyone there was nothing to be scared about and that a graveyard was a peaceful place. I guess they’d heard too many ghost stories.

I grew up in England, and when we moved to America, I was surprised to find that many US cemeteries look similar to the UK variety. One difference I noticed was the trees, and (depending on the climate), the smells.

Old British graveyards contained many yew trees – a deep green and forbidding looking tree beneath which the ground always felt damp. I loved the peaty smell though, and the cool shade in summer. In contrast, modern American cemeteries are landscaped with ornamental trees and shrubs. However, headstones (as the name suggests) are all made from stone, whether in the UK or the US, and I enjoyed photographing them in black and white in my teen years.


It was a natural progression for me from cemetery admiration to a fascination with genealogy. I was twenty-two before I became involved with the latter, and the bug shows no sign of leaving no matter how old I get.

I love how cemeteries help move our research along. By examining a tombstone, we can pick up several clues about the person buried there. Often, small symbols and icons engraved upon the stone will tell us something about a person’s occupation or religion. Inscriptions and the order of graves in a group can tell us about a family. If the words on a stone are faded or half-missing, sometimes the actual shape of a stone may give a clue as to the age in which it was made. There have always been fashionable styles, even in cemeteries.

Today, there are many ways we can access cemeteries online, although you can’t beat a personal visit for atmosphere, and the real hands-on experience with headstones. It is even possible to leave virtual flowers online now, and add a note on a loved-one’s grave.

I’m grateful to live in this electronic age when so much information is available. One website where you can search cemetery burial records from thousands of cemeteries across the world is at A Google search will display more sites, including Find a Grave at that provides the following options and more:
-Search 75 million grave records
-Search for cemeteries
-Add burial records
-View recently added names
-Stroll through Find A Grave’s online cemetery
-Find famous graves
-See Interesting monuments
-View photographs

I hope this page triggers some enthusiasm for cemeteries and the treasures they contain. There’s nothing quite like doing a day’s detective work while wandering among gravestones and experiencing the serenity that exists in those places of rest.

True Miracles with Genealogy: Volume One – Paperback
A collection of family history research stories written by ordinary people with extraordinary experiences. These events are part of the reward that comes from doing genealogy. They are the fathers and mothers turning their hearts to their children-the spiritual moments and help that comes from beyond the veil. Each account is unique. Each is a miracle. Each will inspire readers as they come to the heady realization that family history work is of great consequence, and there really is a world of spirits.

True Miracles with Genealogy: Volume Two – Paperback
In the same way that elegant, old leaves float back to earth and enrich the soil, so ancestors can reach out and strengthen families. Volume Two of True Miracles with Genealogy; is crammed with over 56 fascinating and inspiring stories from people who love researching their ancestors. Reading a story a day will guarantee a soaring mood, and unlock new ideas for your own research.

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