What do you see in a cemetery?
Gravestones, at a minimum, provide the name and dates for the deceased individual. But there's often much more.
Many stones also carry symbols with specific meanings, which may indicate the deceased's age (young, old), an occupation, religion, organizations, military service or other meanings.
The Heritage Bulletin of Oregon devoted an issue to a detailed list and photographs of many symbols commonly found in cemeteries.
Here are some common symbols and their meanings.
ANGEL: Guardian or messenger between God and man
ASPHODEL or LILY: Plants with white, pink or yellow flowers - including the narcissus and daffodil - reminds visitors of their mortality.
BOOK: The holy book or Bible, "book of life." Closed, end of life or a complete life. A pile of books may indicate the deceased was scholarly or educated.
The holiday season is here.
Much of the world will celebrate Christmas on December 25, or January 7 (Russian Orthodox). African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa from December 26-January 1, and Chanukah - the Jewish Festival of Lights - was celebrated December 11-18.
If you are "Seinfeld" fan, you'll remember Frank Costanza's holiday of Festivus ("for the rest of us") today (December 23); its symbol is a plain aluminum pole.
Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, this is when many people think about the new year ahead and make resolutions about how they plan to do better or become healthier.
Others see holiday family gatherings as the perfect time to finally begin researching their family history and they plan to ask questions and record information at the holiday. as they gather to celebrate.
One important component of this quest is finding where our ancestors are buried. Death records can provide many details and can often be found at either the cemetery office or at the funeral home that handled the burial.
I knew a relative had died in Springfield, Massachusetts and located the cemetery. If I had lived in the area, I would have visited the cemetery, but we were in Nevada at the time - too far for a weekend drive. I called the cemetery office, told them about our relative his date of death and asked them to see what they might have in their files from the 1950s.
That's when I learned so much more about my great-grandfather's cousin. Not only was the family well known, but the cousin had built the cemetery, the home for the aging, the synagogue, in addition to residential housing. A friendly woman pulled the 1950s file and copied as much as she could for me, including the obituary from the local paper. That in itself was a major breakthrough, as it provided the names and cities of many relatives and his daughters' married names.
Today, a simple Google search returns some 4.4 million hits for a "genealogy" search. The results include both free and subscription sites, family sites and pages, genealogical social networking sites - like MyHeritage.com - as well as hundreds of genealogy blogs of every possible description.
Where would we researchers be without the Internet, which makes it so easy and quick to find information, to share that information and collaborate with people around the world who are searching for the same families and towns of origin? Various databases can also help us find those important death records, pointing to the proper cemeteries and funeral homes.