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Graveside Chronicles
by Linda K Lewis, Chronicles Editor
The Markers of Our Heroes

"Memorial Day is a solemn and sad occasion honoring the American soldiers who gave their lives in war. But it is also a hallowed day-because the values those men fought to defend form the essence of our country: freedom and the rights of the individual." -- Andrew Bernstein

At many cemeteries, Memorial Day is the busiest day of the year. Family members come to remember their loved ones and ancestors and decorate their graves. VFW Posts and Boy Scout troops commemorate the veterans' graves by placing flags. Somber ceremonies are held to honor our fallen soldiers.

Often times we see our veterans' graves marked in like style and pattern either in stone or on plaques provided by the government. How can you tell from the stone in which war they served or in which branch of the military?

Traditional Military Gravestones

Military gravestones are available in a number of styles and materials. Upright tablets and flat stone markers are available in both white marble and gray granite. Flat bronze markers for affixing to stones or other material are available in both a standard and small niche sizes.

These markers, typically ordered through the cemetery or funeral director, are provided free of charge for veterans. They are shipped to the cemetery and installed at no cost. All that is required for eligibility is proof of military service. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs will also provide replacements for markers that are damaged or unreadable with appropriate documentation and photos. (See Sources and Resources below for information and how-to).

At a minimum, these government-provided markers must be inscribed with the veteran's legal name, branch of service, birth and death years. As space permits, the inscription may also contain the veteran's rank, war service, decorations, award, month and day of birth and death, and an emblem of belief selected from the VA-approved emblem list. (See Sources and Resources below for markers styles and a list of approved emblems).

Memorial military markers are also available for those veterans whose remains were not recovered. Memorials can be identified by the phrase "In Memory Of" found inscribed at the top of the stone or marker.

Government-supplied gravestones may also include approved personalization such as nickname, military affiliations and veteran's groups, placed at the bottom of the marker, if space permits. Civilian titles may also be inscribed, but have to be placed at the bottom of the marker, not with the name. 

Historic Civil War Union and Spanish American War Gravestones

Union Civil War and Spanish-American War markers share a unique design style that makes them easily identifiable. This historical gravestone is an upright marble tablet with a smooth rounded top. The tablet features a sunken shield with the arched name and abbreviated military organization inscribed in raised lettering inside the shield. Often these markers do not feature the veteran's birth or death dates, but for those that do, it is found imprinted below the shield.

It is also important to note that many original Union and Spanish-American veteran stones were made of varying widths, thicknesses, and materials, depending on availability of local resources.

Historic Civil War Confederate States of America Gravestones

The marker on the grave of a confederate soldier is another easily distinguished style of historical gravestone. Like the ones above, these markers were created in the upright tablet style and usually made of marble.... However, the top was pointed instead of rounded. The confederate gravestone features the distinctive Southern Cross of Honor inscribed at the top of the stone with the veteran's name etched below the cross, followed by the abbreviated military organization and possible birth and death dates.

Sources and Resources

"Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers." Burial and Memorials United States. Department of Veterans Affairs. 29 Apr 2007:

Bernstein, Andrew. "The Purpose of Memorial Day: Honoring Virtue." Andrew Bernstein, Philosopher and Novelist. 2 May 2007:

"Fact Sheet: VA's Headstones and Markers." Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. April 2005. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. 29 Apr 2007:

"Pre-World War I Era Headstones and Markers." Burial and Memorials. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. 29 Apr 2007:

"Types of Headstones and Markers Available." Burial and Memorials. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. 2 May 2007:

"VA Form 40-1330." Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker. United States Department of Veterans Affairs. 29 Apr 2007:

Previously printed in The USGenWeb Newsletter:
Volume 4, Number 4; May 2007

The Importance of Viewing Original Records

by Christine Sweet-Hart, Contributing Editor

Good research involves looking at all of the records available for a particular research project. Great research questions those in secondary or tertiary formats, and quests for the originals. Beware of compilations, indexes, and other secondary sources of information whether electronic or paper, especially those that contain no citation showing where the information was obtained. Although these sources can provide clues to other records, they are themselves not good documentary evidence of relationships.

Often the choice of what information is translated into an electronic database, index, or list format is largely left to the discretion of the organization, project manager, or individual that is creating the compilation. Valuable information may be left out due to space or time constraints, or incorrectly indexed due to ignorance on the part of the individual transcriber. Many times, this information is the difference between a brick wall in research and a clue to solving a family history mystery. 

While it is valuable to know when your ancestor died, it is even more valuable to know the circumstances surrounding their death and who was left behind. One database of early town death records eliminated the cause of death and coroners notes. When viewing the originals, it was found within those notes indications that some people had died by drowning or accidental falls. Deaths by epidemic illnesses were also in the original records, along with notes about next of kin and other relations of the deceased. This information is invaluable when searching for pathways to additional records for research, and would have been lost without viewing the originals. 

In another example, one compiler's zeal to make information available to the general public for no charge resulted in a large index of vital records from a well known collection being put on-line but eliminated the actual town where the event happened, book and page numbers where the original information was located. It was this information that had made the collection valuable. Researchers using this information at face value could possibly be misled into following an incorrect line with no differentiating town associations for people with the same name. 

The "Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850" collection is a great example of why finding original records or supporting documentation for your findings is important. Many people fail to read the "front matter" in these books that explains that the information is taken from a variety of sources, not all from civil records which did not exist officially in Massachusetts until 1841. Many of these records are taken from church, bible, and other family papers. While these original sources may not exist anymore, they provide clues to further records or family members, in the case of the owners of the bibles recorded, that can be pursued. 

When using any secondary or tertiary record source, it is important to look for pathways to the original records, read any information that tells what the compilation contains and does not contain, and if the original records are not available, obtain other documentation to corroborate your findings. Viewing the original records can also bring unexpected benefits.... Imagine the surprise of one researcher when browsing microfilmed copies of actual census records and realizing that the enumerator, not listed in the abstracts of the records, was actually a relative! There are many reasons to view original records when researching, but the most important one is that it is just good research practice.

Previously printed in The USGenWeb Newsletter:
Volume 4, Number 4; May 2007


2004 Rhonda Stolte Darnell