Memorial Inscriptions and Gravestones

Memorial Inscriptions are engravings on gravestones, plaques, cenotaphs or other commemorative items.

Gravestone inscriptions serve as a memoriam to the dead, often being written by the deceased's family.

The earliest memorial inscriptions are often found inside churches. This could be because the person was influential in the church, such as a former vicar, who could have been a highly respected member of the community.  

Most people were buried in a churchyard until the latter half of the eighteenth century.

A gravestone inscription can be useful in family history research because it may give more information than that written in a burial register. This is especially helpful if a person was buried before 1813 because ages were often not recorded in a burial register at that time, especially a woman's, who was not considered important.


Memorial Inscription St Peter and St Paul Nether Heyford Church Elizabeth Wright

It is not uncommon to find a husband and wife were buried together and sometimes a son or daughter as well, so several generations may be revealed. This is especially helpful if a married daughter is buried with her parents because her married name could be recorded on the gravestone.  


Memorial Inscription St Peter and St Paul Nether Heyfor

As shown in this example, an inscription could list the parents of the deceased and her former husband.  This is information that may not be in a parish register.

Titled ancestors in the family?

If you find a titled ancestor whilst conducting genealogical research, sometimes a family coat of arms or family crest is also on the gravestone which can help you to distinguish between families who have the same name.  

Several generations may be buried in a family crypt or family vault, so you could discover information regarding these people from the records.

Memorial Inscriptions - I cannot find a gravestone for my ancestor - why is this?

Some gravestones are eroded by the weather over the years which is a great shame.  However some family history societies have published books of some monumental inscriptions for their area.

Unfortunately if your ancestor was poor and relatives could not afford the cost of a monumental inscription and/or gravestone you could find that your ancestor is buried in an unmarked grave or even in a mass grave.  

You may find the cemetery in which your ancestor was interred is in an overgrown state especially if the cemetery is no longer in use. 

My ancestor was killed in the First or Second World War

If your ancestor was killed during the First or Second World War, it is worth checking the local war memorial to see if his name is listed.  


Nether Heyford Cenotap


Please also view my guides to parish registers in general, baptism recordsmarriage records and burial records.



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