"Gravestones are these tangible reminders of our own mortality, they are open air museums, they contain incredibly beautiful sculptures, they are parks, nature preserves often times, and they are these accessible, historical repositories.” Dr. Keith Alexander is a professor and historian at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown
History Etched in Stone
Old cemeteries are irreplaceable historical resources, subject to abandonment, apathy, encroachment, environmental factors, vandalism, and theft. The gravestones in them have always held great historical significance, it has not been until the last couple of decades that they have achieved a greater respect from the general populous. They are a reminder of various settlement patterns, such as villages, rural communities, urban centers and ghost towns. Cemeteries can reveal information about historic events, religion, lifestyles and genealogy.
Cemeteries and graveyards, often visited as parks and historic sites, are also places to honor and commemorate the dead, and to reflect on the past. With the growth in genealogy research, civil war and revolutionary war interests and an overall mission to reach a greater understanding of our roots, burial grounds have become a gold mine of otherwise lost and forgotten information. They are now seen as a collection of stones whose significance lay in recording genealogical data and denoting the final resting place of prominent individuals.
Unfortunately, time has taken its toll on our heritage etched in stone. What was once thought to be a nearly permanent material, has proved to be far from impervious to the many unforeseen factors in an outdoor environment. Acid rain, neglect, vandalism, general weathering, erosion, as well as the proliferation of land development and urban sprawl, have all played a significant role in the destruction, and loss of context of our historic burial places.
We cannot stop progress or undue the past, but we can make a concerted effort in an attempt to protect what remains of our history in stone. Oftentimes, gravestones are the only source of information about many individuals, and loss of these markers represents information that can never be retrieved. Gravestone conservation and historic stone preservation has become the art and science of preserving all we can of our heritage carved in stone. The premise of this website is to formulate a basic historical perspective on the history of gravestones and the very importance of their preservation.
"Whether an archaeologist, genealogist or a family member preserving the back bone of Loudoun's family history is imperative"
Looking at Gravestones thru an Archaeologist’s Lens
Looking at a burial ground through the eyes of an archeologist is one starting point. Often a genealogist might wonder why a gravestone cannot be found for a specific ancestor. A local study can share trends in burial practices and patterns in destroyed or missing gravestones. Looking at gravestones from the 17th and 18th centuries in each cemetery, only one gravestone from the 17th was identified. While many markers have been destroyed, they also point out that those who have grave markers are typically of the “middle and upper class,” noting “burials of the lower working class and poor have been lost.”
Genealogists tracing their family tree often find themselves scouring graveyards in hopes of uncovering new facts about their family history. Though not all burial locations are marked, gravestones can be an incredible source of information—providing names, dates, places, relationships, and other key details. Genealogists know that an individual gravestone can reflect multiple elements—including one’s standing with a community or their financial status. A single gravestone might only yield a name and year, though it can fill in the gaps. In such cases, a genealogist might move beyond the individual plot—taking a step back to analyze its position, noting nearby burials, further context can be understood by examining a gravestone’s art and comparing it to others, looking for common themes and patterns that showcase religious beliefs, local cultures, and other clues.
(exerts from https://daily.jstor.org/genealogy-factor)
KENNETH FLEMING - MONUMENT CONSERVATOR
Kenneth Fleming, an 8th Generation Loudouner, is a lover of history in all regards. One of his passions is the preservation of the stones. He has spent many an hour trekking across this county bringing their stories back to life. The final product is amazing! From broken to buried, no stone is left unturned. If you have a loved one's stone that needs repaired you can contact him by email. Pricing varies. It depends on the material of the stone and what type of cleaning or repair needs to be done. It also depends on the size of the monument and if other items are to be cleaned, such as, footstones and urns. Before and after photos are included as part of the cleaning packages.
The VA furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death.
For eligible veterans that died on or after Nov. 1, 1990 and whose grave is marked with a privately purchased headstone, VA may also furnish a headstone or marker to supplement the graves or a medallion to be affixed to a privately purchased headstone. Flat markers in granite, marble, and bronze and upright headstones in granite and marble are available. Bronze niche markers are also available to mark columbaria used for inurnment of cremated remains. The style chosen must be permitted by the officials in charge of the private cemetery where it will be placed.
When burial or memorialization is in a national cemetery, state veterans' cemetery, or military post/base cemetery, a headstone or marker will be ordered by the cemetery officials based on inscription information provided by the next of kin or authorized representative. Spouses and dependents are not eligible for a government-furnished headstone or marker unless they are buried in a national cemetery, state veteran's cemetery, or military post/base cemetery.
Note: There is no charge for the headstone or marker itself, however arrangements for placing it in a private cemetery are the applicant's responsibility and all setting fees are at private expense.
Eligibility for a VA headstone or marker is the same as for burial in a national cemetery. VA cannot issue a headstone or marker for a spouse or dependent buried in a private cemetery. Twenty-year reservists without active-duty service are eligible for a headstone or grave marker, if they are entitled to military retired pay at the time of death.
Who Can Apply
Only the following individuals may apply for a headstone, marker or medallion:
Decedent's next-of-kin (NOK)
Authorized representative on behalf of decedent
Authorized representative on behalf of next-of-kin
If someone other than the NOK is applying for the headstone, marker or medallion, the application package must include a written statement signed by the NOK or decedent authorizing that person (the applicant) to apply for this benefit. A notarized statement is not required for these purposes.
National, Post, or State Veterans' Cemetery
A headstone or marker will be ordered by the cemetery officials based on inscription information provided by the next of kin.
To receive a headstone, marker, or medallion, the eligible applicant must submit a VA Form 40-1330, Claim for Standard Government Headstone or Marker or VA Form 40-1330M, Claim for Government Medallion to the VA along with proof of military service, to request a Government-provided headstone or marker. Do not send original documents, as they will not be returned.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT VA HEADSTONES VISIT: https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/memorial-items/headstones-markers-medallions/