Cemetery Symbolism

cemetery symbolism in genealogyLike every genealogist I know, there’s nothing quite like spending time walking through a cemetery. In fact, you may enjoy an earlier blog post I wrote about the importance of actually walking through a cemetery if you possibly can.

A number of years ago, my first genealogy editor, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack, wrote a book on cemetery genealogy. Although I’d always loved researching in cemeteries, I learned so much from Sharon’s book. (It’s out-of-print but still available on Amazon.)

How Many Symbols Have You Seen in Cemeteries?

Reading Sharon’s book reminded me of how many symbols I’ve seen in cemeteries (I’ve included a dozen of my own photos below). Some symbols Sharon discusses include:

  • Forefinger pointing upward (soul has gone to heaven)
  • Forefinger pointing downward (God is reaching down for the soul)
  • Handshake (God’s welcome to heaven)
  • Books (represent the Bible)
  • Dove (Holy Spirit)
  • Lamb (Innocence – often seen on childrens’ graves)
  • Weeping willow (Sadness)
  • Fraternal symbols such as the Masons
  • Sheaf of wheat (Having lived a long and fruitful life)


If you have some time, I think it would make for a fascinating scrapbook page or Pinterest board to include all of the cemetery symbols that you’ve found over the course of your research. While I’m truly keen on saving family stories, I’m equally as enthralled with cemetery photos.

How about you? Leave a comment and share the most unusual symbol you’ve seen.

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  1. Is there any significance to the color of a tombstone? My cousin seems to remember a discussion between the old people in my family but I haven’t found any thing online. thanks

    1. Hi Cindy,
      Well I have to admit you’ve got me on this one. I haven’t ever heard anything about tombstone colors having different meanings. If you ever track it down, I’d love to hear more about it!

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