Follow along with my husband & I as we go traipsing through cemeteries photographing grave markers and transcribing tombstones. Hopefully, we'll learn a little about burial customs and the study of cemeteries along the way.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Graveyard Rabbits Carnival: Genealogy on the Tombstone

The topic for the November 2010 edition of the Graveyard Rabbits Carnival is: Genealogy On The Tombstone.  This topic was submitted by Diane Wright, who authors three GYR blogs: The Kansas Rabbit, The Wright Graveyard Stew, and The Grave Yard Rabbit Travels Wright.  Does the tombstone tell a family history?  You bet it does!  Have we found some genealogy clues embedded in stone? Absolutely! Even a tombstone can be genealogical paydirt!

Take, for example, the Willis family, buried in the Pioneer Memorial Cemetery in San Bernardino, CA.  It looks ordinary enough, right?

Photo taken on Oct. 11, 2010 by Tombstone Jack
This one monument is chock full of genealogy... it contains birth and death information for eleven different people!

The front of the stone gives us information on Henry M. Willis (Sept. 21, 1831 - Sept. 1, 1895) and his wife Amelia who died on Aug. 12, 1889 at the age of 43 years.  You can calculate from that, that her year of birth was  1846.  Judging by the dates, I'd say these two are the patriarch and matriarch of this particular family grouping.
Photo by Tombstone Jack - Oct. 11, 2010
Side two, gives us the details on Judge Henry Montague Willis (Nov. 12, 1871 - Apr. 15, 1960) and his wife Clyda Ellen Willis (Dec. 13, 1885 - Nov. 9, 1977).  Below them, we have John William Willis (May 19, 1963 - Sept. 22, 1993).  From this, I would assume that Henry Montague is the son of Henry M., and that perhaps his M is really a Montague.  We also know that he was a judge.  If we didn't already know the name of his wife, we certainy do now.  To find her maiden name, I would start by searching California marriage records.  As for John William Willis, my guess would be that he is the son of Henry & Clyda due to the year of his birth.
Photo by Tombstone Jack - Oct. 11, 2010
Side three informs us about Amy Willis Hudson (Mar. 16, 1867 - Aug. 4, 1917), Louise Willis Dodsworth (Apr. 4, 1883 - June 2, 1955), and Elizabeth Willis (May 10, 1879 - Apr. 29, 1957).  I would say that all three are daughters of Henry & Amelia.  Although we don't have any husbands listed on this monument, we do know that Amy married a Hudson and and Louise married a Dodsworth.  More names to search the marriage records for!
Photo by Tombstone Jack - Oct. 11, 2010
And finally, the fourth side tells us about Edwin A Willis (who died May 28, 1871 at the age of 32 years), Jennie C. Willis (Aug. 3, 1875 - Apr. 9, 1948) and Matilda Willis Condee (Mar. 15, 1862 - May 15, 1948).  If Edwin was 32 when he died in 1871, that would mean he was born in 1839.  Obviously not a son of Henry M., but perhaps a younger brother?  Jennie C. would be another daughter, as would be Matilda.  We know Matilda married a Condee, so we have another marriage to research.
Photo by Tombstone Jack

This one tombstone answered several questions, raised a few more, and pointed us in the right direction for further research.  Isn't that what genealogy is all about?  We've got eleven names, birth and death dates, family relationships... and I haven't even touched Google yet!


  1. I love finding monuments like this! It's like discovering a treasure chest full of genealogical gold! :)

  2. Beautiful photos!!! And a bucket load of family history!

  3. You found a wealth of family information! Thanks for sharing!