Written by Flora VerStraten, Cemetery Chair

When Memorial Day (Decoration Day) passes each year and we are on to celebrating the 4th of July through the end of the summer to Labor Day, many of the area cemeteries receive visits and flowers are placed on our countless family plots. Recently I have spent more than my fair share of time touring the Jefferson County cemeteries. Sometimes researchers spend so much time seeking the names of those on the tombstones that we overlook what else a record or resource, in this case a tombstone, can tell. In addition to being a source of information in our quest for information about our ancestors, I have found that tombstones often are works of art that offer a glimpse into the life of the individual who is gone. Of course if we are always in a hurry, dashing from one record to another, we often miss the chance to get to know the person through their tombstone.

When you think about it, many of the tombstones that mark the final resting-place of our ancestors are works of art. The carved images practically come to life from the intricacy and detail. Some people visit cemeteries just to see these beautiful statues and stones. Most of the imagery on a tombstone carries with it religious significance. Some of the images found on tombstones include the following:

  • Flying angel: rebirth, resurrection
  • Weeping angel: grief and mourning
  • Crown: the glory of life after death
  • A hand or finger pointing up- pathway to heaven

A Window to a Life

While the imagery of angels and crowns was prevalent in earlier centuries, I have seen a trend in the types of things found on markers of today. Many of them include something about the person such as; fishing gear and boats, racecars, pet etchings etc. I have seen poems and stories about the deceased. One of the best ways to keep these windows is to take a picture and preserve the stone in time. I know many take digital photos so they can check the images before leaving the cemetery.

Community Involvement

One of the most prevalent additions to tombstones and markers that I have seen is that of fraternal organizations or similar groups. Identifying these insignias offer insight into the beliefs of your ancestor, perhaps even identifying his or her religion, and can offer other avenues for record searching. The most common fraternal organizations are that of the Freemasons. Others include, Oddfellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Woodmen (sometimes have tree stumps) and the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic fraternal organization). Another insignia that you may find is that of the Grand Army of the Republic. Such an insignia indicates that your ancestor fought for the Union during the Civil War. The United Confederate Veterans has a similar insignia for those who fought for the South.

In Conclusion

Our ancestors did not want to be forgotten, nor did those they left behind wish to forget. The tombstones and markers reflect this enduring remembrance. The stones and markers were placed there because our ancestors or their family wanted us to know special things about them. Remember that a tombstone is much more than a source for the date or birth or death!

Commemorative Flag holders and Plaques

(The following information was taken from the web site- www.genealogyspot.com ) This site has a pictorial catalog of flag holders and plaque from countless organizations and military. The collection of photographs began in June of 2000 by Joyce M. Tice. She states, "these markers are present in most cemeteries and we tend to overlook them. We genealogists focus on the names and the tombstones and pay little attention to these markers. It isn’t until we stop and take a closer look that we realize the diversity that exists and the local history that is preserved in the older markers. It becomes like a treasure hunt to tour a cemetery to find a marker you have not seen before." She continues, "many of these markers are diverse and captivating but are vastly disappearing with caretaker staff that can’t be bothered with them and have removed them over the years."Mrs. Tice continues with several recommendations including the how to’s of collecting our own markers and flag holders. Our collections should be done ONLY with a camera! No one should EVER remove a flag holder from its place. Some person or organization that cared about that person left it there to honor them and you must NOT interfere with that. These markers and flag holders have been seen on Ebay and even the Old Antique Road Show. When they appeared on the road show, appraisers requested the markers be returned and that it has NO "appraisal value." They continued to inform the public that these markers should not be collected by anyone including our historical societies, genealogy societies and the like. We should stand strong and set an example to do all we can to keep our ancestors local history provided from these markers and flag holders.


Do NOT buy or sell historic cemetery flag holders or markers. From the web site above, Mrs. Tice has serious reservations about creating a market for cemetery flag holders. It makes them VERY vulnerable to theft when people can just walk in to a cemetery and get salable items. She states that she is very much in favor of making it illegal to sell any kind of cemetery memorabilia. In many states it is illegal to steal military flag holders and markers. She has found caretakers trash where "heaps" had been dumped and never felt the need to take them and sell them. They are a treasured piece of information for descendants of these people and belong by the tombstones where they were originally placed. Leave them there!

The U.S. Geological Survey hosts the Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) database on its website and it can be a great tool for identifying cemeteries in an area. You can enter a state and county and then select cemeteries from the “Feature Class” field and query the database to see a list of cemeteries.

Ninety-three cemeteries are listed for Jefferson County, Ohio. I don't know if the following link will work, but this is the specific list of the 93:

This http://www.geocities.com/ohioplaces/cemeteries/b.html is a good guide to find out where different cemeteries are in Ohio - by selection from the alphabet 'key' below.nI just found this

Cemetery Maps and Directions to Jefferson County Cemeteries