Recording Monumental Inscriptions
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|Why make records of Monumental Inscriptions?
Monuments, whether they be grand obelisks, war memorials, gravestones, or whatever, are a part of our heritage. They are a record, usually engraved in stone, of an important event. Our forefathers probably thought of them as being something which would last forever. What could be more permanent than stone itself? Unfortunately, this is not the case. The surface of stone weathers away over the years by various means. Rain, wind, frost, vegetation and chemical actions all take their toll on the surface of stone, no matter what kind of stone it is. Some stones are laid on the ground and get walked upon by countless feet and the inscription is literally worn away. Gravestones get broken (by accident or by vandalism), fall over and become buried and overgrown, and in many cases, stones are simply removed from a burial ground either because the land is being re-developed, or because it makes a churchyard easier to maintain.
Above right: The inscription on this stone of 1845 is now barely legible. Fortunately it can just be deciphered. It is the grave of my great/great/great/grandfather, Francis Neep at Tilney All Saints, Norfolk. His father (John) was buried at Epperstone, Nottinghamshire, and I was fortunate to find that the headstone there was made of slate... it looked as though it had been engraved yesterday!
The phrase, 'etched in stone,' is commonly used to denote permanence. But for those concerned with recording monument inscriptions, the fallacy of the phrase is evident. For stone is *not* permanent; and the inscriptions upon it even less so.1
Monumental inscriptions are far from being a permanent record. One only has to visit a local churchyard to find out for yourself. A legible gravestone from the 1500's or 1600's is a very rare sight indeed. Our local church at Cinderford was only consecrated in 1845, and yet probably 40% of the stones are either broken, removed or illegible. Some types of stone do last better than others (slate in particular), but in most places the material used is a local stone. It is a sad fact that most gravestones, although erected to commemorate someone's life, are no longer visited, or considered to be important by subsequent generations of descendants. Most people do not know where their grandparents were buried, never mind their previous ancestors. Sooner or later, some family member might just become interested in family history. They are told first to speak to their oldest living relatives before they die. Unfortunately, many do not have the opportunity to look for gravestones before they are lost forever too.
It is fact that a grave stone can provide a very valuable amount of information to the genealogist. Birth, marriage and death certificates only provide a limited amount of information. The Inscriptions on gravestones provide us with valuable information about relationships where people are buried in multiple graves
James Howes.... son of Francis Howes.... also Hannah his wife... also James, son of James and Hannah... also their daughter Mary Wilkinson......
The inscriptions provide exact death dates, and often birth dates too. They often give clues as to how the person died. Our local graveyard has facts such as "killed in an accident at Lightmoor Colliery", "tragically killed in a road accident", "killed in action", and so on.
Without records of the monumental inscriptions, this valuable information will become lost forever. Stone is not permanent.
Rod Neep. May 1997
1 Sandy Bolick
Copyright ©1997, 2004 Rod Neep