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(45 Posts)
Joseann Thu 20-Jul-23 12:14:17

I've just started this fascinating genealogy lark. I don't want to look a fool by asking this on an ancestry site, but can anyone tell me whether headstones get moved or even removed from church graveyards? I went back today to take a second look and the layout of the place had all changed from two or so years ago? Is the church the best bet to ask?
On an exciting note (for me anyway), my great grandfather sang a solo at Queen Victoria's coronation when he was a boy at Christ's Hospital. 👑 🎶 🎵

growstuff Thu 20-Jul-23 12:20:11

Yes, they do get moved if they're unsafe and likely to topple. If you can, try to speak to the priest/vicar. The church might have a graveyard plan or can direct you to the parish records.

Joseann Thu 20-Jul-23 12:29:19

Thank you.

Bella23 Thu 20-Jul-23 12:32:43

I would say the same as growstuff. Also if you think you have found one and it is covered in moss or litchen ask if they mind if you clean it. If it is a cemetery, not a churchyard you might be able to get a plan from the local council.
Don't be like my cousin who sneaked to a churchyard where our Great grandmother x4 headstone is. They were caught with a bucket, scrubbing brush and mould and mildew cleaner trying to see the other names on the headstones.
How lovely to find that your great-grandfather sang at a Coronation. Mines brother is on a list of convicts being deported to Oz for manslaughter.

Joseann Thu 20-Jul-23 13:21:59

Oops great great grandfather. This family tree stuff will take some learning!
Good tip Bella23. I guess the deposits from the trees in graveyards are probably the worst thing to obliterate the headstones.

eddiecat78 Thu 20-Jul-23 13:27:42

When looking for buriels can be useful. Also I strongly recommend the Rootschat forum for anything family history related. I guarantee nobody will laugh at you! There are some amazingly helpful people there. I even had one chap volunteer to visit my grandfather's grave and took photos for me

eddiecat78 Thu 20-Jul-23 13:28:43

I should have said - both the above mentioned sites are free

growstuff Thu 20-Jul-23 13:38:37


Oops great great grandfather. This family tree stuff will take some learning!
Good tip Bella23. I guess the deposits from the trees in graveyards are probably the worst thing to obliterate the headstones.

It depends what kind of stone has been used and how exposed the site.

Primrose53 Thu 20-Jul-23 16:56:50

My Dad died in 2007 and I used to pop over (still do) and put a new trough with bedding plants on and wipe over the headstone. One hot day I went over and did the usual and watered the plants. I had been bending over and my back ached so I stood up and leant against the headstone to admire my handiwork and the whole headstone fell over backwards!

There was no way I could lift it and nobody in sight so I ran around the churchyard looking for someone to help. I found a very elderly man tidying a grave and he kindly came over and between us we just managed to get it upright again.

When my Mum passed away 13 years later and was buried with my Dad I told the stonemason to make absolutely sure they did a good job this time!

AreWeThereYet Thu 20-Jul-23 17:17:38

Yes they do.

There are a lot of rules now about cleaning headstones. Some of them are covered in rare lichens, fungi, etc that have to be left alone.

There are sites online where people list headstones - groups go round church yards, cemeteries, memorials, etc., note what is on them and document it online. I found a headstone for a great, great, great uncle who emigrated to Canada online.

ixion Thu 20-Jul-23 17:26:58

You may or may not! find this interesting Joseann.
It's fascinating stuff on how to 'read' graves, headstones etc.

Bella23 Thu 20-Jul-23 17:30:08

Where I come from, the older headstones are mainly Red sandstone and you can see how easy it is for litchen etc. to grow. The newer ones are polished granite and wipe clean easily. Sometimes when you go into a cemetery there will be a sign saying any leaning headstones that are not righted will be leaning against the wall. They did this with my Great gran x3 between visits.
If your relations mainly come from one area it is worth joining the local family history group they often have pamphlets of graveyards that people have copied . If you are paying for Ancestry try the Question boards they are in countries and areas of countries. I got a lot of help from Canada and also someone contacted me as they had found a grave of DH's relation in Canada and wanted information about his family and why he had gone to put it in their booklet.

Germanshepherdsmum Thu 20-Jul-23 17:46:15

Sadly my maternal side could not afford headstones before my great grandfather died in 1936. So many unmarked graves.

Fleurpepper Thu 20-Jul-23 18:06:30

Cleaning older stone headstones seems truly wrong to me. the lichen, etc, is part of the history, and beauty too. Anyone who has visited the Carrara area of Italy would never choose marble, I have to say.

Joseann Thu 20-Jul-23 18:13:15

Thank you, this is all interesting information.
I popped back to the grave in the churchyard this afternoon, and lo and behold the headstone was there after all, a bit further back and now facing the wrong way round!
There were two marked sides to it, so that's why I couldn't find who I was looking for and had remembered from years back.

Germanshepherdsmum Thu 20-Jul-23 18:21:00

I think it’s right to clean headstones to the extent necessary to make names and dates clear. People shouldn’t be forgotten and in erecting a headstone that’s what their families were trying to achieve. To hell with the beauty of lichen.

Vintagenonna Thu 20-Jul-23 18:21:40

My sister and I trotted over the the beautiful graveyard where our dad's ashes were interred. Ma had asked us to dig in a pot beside the flat stone so that we/she could put flowers by them. Being well organised (?) professional women we arrived on a lovely spring evening without a trowel to dig with. We set to with a tyre lever and tools from the back of the car and the job was done.
We were making our way across the graveyard in the last of the sunshine when we realised a rather worried looking young man was walking backwards away from us and in the general direction of his own vehicle. Which took off quite quickly.
We christened ourselves 'The Burke & Hare' sisters.

lemsip Thu 20-Jul-23 18:27:23

both sets of my grandparents do not have gravestones yet it could not have been down to cost. Paternal grandparents died in 1950s and maternal in 1940s. I have looked up their wills on ancestry and they left considerable sums for back then...

have been to where they lay by obtaining grave numbers, they are in the same vicinity

Germanshepherdsmum Thu 20-Jul-23 18:41:40

Perhaps meanness?

Joseann Thu 20-Jul-23 18:52:12

So this doesn't really help me in terms of putting information into Ancestry does it, because there are no dates for the deaths?
Just their ages.

Joseann Thu 20-Jul-23 18:53:52

Oh sorry, I've just seen a date after all. Ignore me!
So that should take me to the Death records I guess?

growstuff Thu 20-Jul-23 19:04:28

You'll find deaths since 1837 here:

Before 1837, you'll have to look at parish records.

If you're a member of Ancestry, you can probably find census records since 1841.

Joseann Thu 20-Jul-23 19:06:20


Bella23 Thu 20-Jul-23 19:52:29

If you're using Ancestry and get as far back as the 1841 census check the ages carefully for that census their ages were rounded up or down by 5 to the nearest 10 unit in a lot of cases.
If you have multiple of the same name like I have a William you can work out who is the head of the house not always the father sometimes it is his son with his mother and father with him and the youngest William in my case is the head of houses son.
If you are lucky to find this you can then work out when the grandfather was born before 1839 on Parish records. Unfortunately in most, I have looked at for 1841 they do not ask for a place of birth but if they were born in the county they are recorded in then move onto the 1851 and see if they are still alive.
The other tip I was given by a Scottish friend is that the first boy in a family was often called after the fathers father the first girl was called after the mother's mother this applied to lots of Northern families as well. He also told me if you cannot find someone on the census if you know the name in the local dialect or if they have moved Countries say it out loud. I have Huttons recorded in Cumberland as Hatten because of a Scots accent and Ackerleys recorded as Ackla which is the way the name was pronounced in Cumberland.
It gets easier and is fascinating. I'm still looking for my great grandfather x3 on the 41 and 51 censuses after at least 14 years so have come to a standstill taking the family back.

Callistemon21 Thu 20-Jul-23 20:31:28

Is there a U3A in your area, Joseann?
If so, there may be a Family History group, where other members will have lots of tips, useful information and links and they may invite visiting speakers.

Be aware that some of the transcribed names on Ancestry are not correct - in fact sometimes nothing like the name. And those going from house to house taking down census details did not always know how to spell the names either.