Searching cemeteries for the beginner can be unnerving, but taking along a seasoned or adventurous friend can be just the ticket to enjoying the beauty of the stones and their engravings as well as finding long deceased ancestors.

You must remember from the beginning to look at the stone’s symbolism. These can tell you so much about who a person was during their life. I always clip the grass from around the base of the monument to better access all the writing. The grass may have hidden something written at the very bottom. The cemetery around here with so much symbolism is the McKinney Pecan Grove Cemetery at El Dorado and Highway 5 in McKinney. I have long wanted to just walk that cemetery and look at the symbolism on the tombstones. Of course, I would have to take my old trusty cemetery symbolism book I have carried around for years to identify everything. I am related to a few of the souls buried there, but certainly not all of them. I would have to remember to not spend all my time at their stones because I would want to continue throughout.

If you don’t have time to spend on a cemetery with unrelated people, then you must be prepared to search in specific ones. You have probably already created a cemetery list. If not, do so now. Of course, start with the closest one. Identify the stones you want to explore and stay focused or you may spend many hours you had not prepared for.

You can search online for ‘recognizing cemetery symbols’ for further help. I recently found some interesting sites at these sites: at,,,, and another site at There are other sites, but I thought these might help you get started.

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Throughout the Victorian period into the late 1800s, hands were used as religious symbolism. For instance, hands are often used on tombstones. If the hands are clasped, it means the unity of a husband and wife or God welcoming the soul to its eternal life. It also symbolizes the relationship with God. A hand reaching down with the first finger pointing downwards means God’s hand is lifting the soul up to heaven. It is a religious symbol and does not indicate the soul has gone to hell. Conversely, the hand with finger pointing up means the soul has gone on to its reward in heaven, confirmation of death, or the relationship with God and family. The symbolism of the shaking hands began in the 4th and 5th century in Greece. It is meant to show peace, loyalty and friendship. Also, their word was their bond. I wish people would not read these signs incorrectly. They are just religious symbols with which those of the Christian faith are aware.

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The symbolism always intrigued me. Some of my favorites are cherubs or angels on stones symbolizing the soul or child has gone to heaven. A broken obelisk indicates a life was cut short, died at an early age, or the head of the household passing. Drapery over a tombstone indicates grief or sorrow but a draped flag may suggest the deceased was in the military. Flowers indicate the deceased was in the prime of life. A bouquet could send a particular symbolism by the types of flowers in it. Marigolds indicated grief. But a bouquet of poppies or chrysanthemums signified success and good cheer. Grapes found on stones symbolize the blood of Christ or the Last Supper. A lily signifies innocence, chastity and purity

Some member’s organizations appear on tombstones as well. The Masonic Compass suggests the deceased was a Mason who believed in God and serving their community. It uses an open book, a compass and a square. Three chain links indicate the departed was a member of the International Order of the Oddfellows. The links stand for friendship, love and truth. Stones shaped as if a tree trunk means the deceased was a member of the Woodmen of the World or Woodmen of America and were popular in the1880s through the 1920s. This organization offers insurance, savings, retirement, and estate planning. The weeping willow indicates the people left behind to suffer their loss of the deceased. Even the winged skull has a religious symbolism that needs to be mentioned. It may conjure up scary thoughts, but it actually indicates the soul has taken flight from the body on earth and is making its flight from its mortal skeleton left behind into heaven.

Cemeteries get a bad rap. They are not places where spirits dwell or where ghosts abound. They are the resting places of our ancestors and should be treated as such. There are no ghosts in cemeteries lurking to scare you. In cemeteries, you have only to be afraid of the living with evil intentions. I walked alone through a major New Orleans cemetery back in the 60s. We were driving through and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to check out that cemetery. It was a bright moonlit night. I listened for noises of living people but thankfully, there was none. Those clean, scrubbed stones were bright white in the moonlight. It was beautiful.

Go visit those cemeteries where your ancestors are buried. Study the writing and the symbolism on the stone to find out more about your ancestors. Just be alert for any passing spiders or snakes. Always carry a phone for picture taking and scissors for cutting grass from the around the stone. Enjoy!

Plano SAR Chapter #37 meets Tuesday, March 5

The Plano Sons of the American Revolution Chapter #37 (SAR) will meet Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in the private meeting room of Outback Steak House, 15th Street and Central Expressway. The speaker is Tina McDaniel from the Volunteer Services of the Veteran’s Administration in Bonham. Those eating are asked to meet at 6 p.m. The meeting and program begins promptly at 7 p.m. Members’ wives are always invited. For further information, the SAR website is

The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR) was founded in 1883 as a patriotic and hereditary society to honor and preserve the memory of Revolutionary War Ancestors and events leading to the founding of the United States of America. They are the lineal descendants of the men and women who fought in and supported the cause that created the United States of America. The SAR members not only descend from the Patriots you have read about, but also the everyday people who believed in and fought for a better way of life. []

Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to:

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