Written in Stone: In-Depth Study of a Gravestone - free replay of today's webinar by Gena Philibert-Ortega now available for limited time

Written in Stone: In-Depth Study of a Gravestone - free replay of today's webinar by Gena Philibert-Ortega now available for limited time

The recording of today's webinar by Gena Philibert-Ortega, "Written in Stone: In-Depth Study of a Gravestone” is now available to view at www.FamilyTreeWebinars.com for free for a limited time.

Webinar Description

Genealogists use gravestone information to document death information, but oftentimes, a burial marker provides more than biographical information. Gravestones, like any record, should be analyzed but to do so requires one to think beyond genealogical research. In this presentation, we will explore types of cemeteries, the anatomy of a marker, and the “hidden” information the marker provides.

View the Recording at FamilyTreeWebinars.com

If you could not make it to the live event or just want to watch it again, the 1 hour 25 minute recording of "Written in Stone: In-Depth Study of a Gravestone" is now available to view in our webinar library for free for a limited time.

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True Confession of the Cemetery Visitor

I have a genealogical confession. To be honest, it's embarrassing because I know better. But it's a good lesson to remember as we explore cemeteries.

As a genealogist, I've been visiting cemeteries for decades. I've visited cemeteries in various states and countries. I even wrote a book that focused on cemeteries in the Eastern Sierra region of California. I have had my share of great cemetery discoveries and mishaps. One recent visit to a cemetery was a good reminder of being cautious.

I've written about the IOOF cemetery in Denton, Texas before. I had occasion to visit it again in August. Since I had some time to kill (no pun intended), I decided that I would take some photos of gravestones and explore a new-to-me section of the cemetery.

W. L. Jones tombstone, IOFF Cemetery, Denton Texas. Photograph by Gena Philibert-Ortega
W. L. Jones tombstone, IOFF Cemetery, Denton Texas. Photograph by Gena Philibert-Ortega

It was August in Texas. It's hot (106 degrees) and humid. Plus there was some longish grass. So as I walked amongst the gravestones, I thought to myself, "I hope there aren't any snakes."

Yes, snakes are what I really fear. They are no doubt my personal "kryptonite." Though thinking back on it now, that fear was probably illogical since there most likley aren't many snakes hanging out in this populated area.

What I wasn't thinking about in my rolled-up pant legs and cloth shoes was the very real possibility of either falling in a hole or running the risk of coming into contact with a nefarious plant.

And then it happened. I felt something pierce my foot. I didn't pay much attention to it at first, but it soon became pretty painful, so I looked down to see what was causing that stabbing pain.

Yes. Goats Head Thorns. Lots of them. In my shoes and the leg of my pants.
Yes. Goats Head Thorns. Lots of them. In my shoes and the leg of my pants.

Well, here's the problem. Those thorns are difficult (and painful) to remove with your hands because they stick to everything they come into contact with. I was able to yank the one out of my foot and then carefully walk back to the car to take care of the rest.

I love this cemetery, but next time I'll wear long pants and different shoes!
I love this cemetery, but next time I'll wear long pants and different shoes!

The Dangers of the Cemetery

So what's the lesson learned from my carelessness? Cemeteries can be dangerous. We need to carefully consider how we approach cemetery visits. I knew this. I have visited many Texas cemeteries over the years and walked through thorns, tall grasses, and stinging nettles all while wearing Capri pants. But despite my previous experiences, this time I failed to pay much attention to where I was walking.

Now what about my concern over a possible snake? I did have my cell phone, so if that phantom snake ever showed, I could summon help. But besides having access to a cell phone, which is only useful if you have cell coverage in that cemetery, it's also important to consider how you approach your cemetery visit. For example:

  • Are there any poisonous plants? Either plants native to that area or that you are allergic to.
  • How tall is the grass? Tall grasses might hide holes, snakes, or other venomous creatures.
  • What are the surroundings like? Holes, uneven ground, or rocks might result in a twisted ankle, sprained wrist, or at the very least, a nasty fall.
  • How well-tended are the graves? Sunken graves can result in falls and injuries
  • Who is with you? Children who like to run and climb? You might want to visit another time to ensure everyone's safety.
  • What type of markers exists? Unstable above-ground markers and monuments can fall, so never lean on them (this is very serious because people have died).

For years, I've cautioned researchers to be careful and prepared when they visit cemeteries because they can be hazardous. I know firsthand because I've faced some of those dangers including walking through stinging nettles, falling in a sunken grave, and the time a tree limb hit me in the head.

Let's face it, we genealogists can't resist the siren call of the cemetery. But it's important to remember that cemeteries aren't without danger. While a nicely manicured city cemetery might hold few risks, other cemeteries can contain a host of hazards resulting in an injury or even death.

So yes, take some time to stop at that cemetery. Family historians benefit from perusing gravestones, but make sure that you are careful as you explore.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


New "Member Friday" Webinar - New Clues from Old Headstones by Marian Pierre-Louis

New Member Friday Webinar - New Clues from Old Headstones by Marian Pierre-Louis

Every Friday we're pleased to offer Legacy Family Tree Webinar subscribers a new bonus webinar just for them!   This Friday enjoy "New Clues from Old Headstones" by Marian Pierre-Louis. If you're not a member, remember the webinar previews are always free.

New Clues from Old Headstones

How many times have you transcribed a gravestone and then moved on to the next one? You could be walking away from valuable other clues. Learn how to interpret a gravestone for hints that will lead you to new record sources. Just as important as the text are clues such as location, type of stone, carver and symbols. This talk will take you through specific examples to get the most out interpreting gravestones.

New Clues from Old Headstones by Marian Pierre-Louis



About the Presenter

Marian Pierre-LouisMarian Pierre-Louis is a House Historian and Genealogy Professional who focuses on New England research. She specializes in educational outreach through webinars, internet broadcasts and video. Marian is the host of the Genealogy Professional podcast, a show committed to helping genealogy professionals become better business people. Once a month you'll find her as the evening host of Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

See all the webinars by Marian Pierre-Louis in the Legacy library.

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Tapping Into MyHeritage's Community To Advance Your Genealogy Research

Many think of genealogy research as a solitary activity. Often we are researching on our own, but sometimes we need  a bit of help.  We need help with transcribing or translating a record.  We need help locating resources or a quick look up in a repository we cannot visit. We need a community of researchers!

Whatever our need,  the genealogy community is a generous one! 

Tapping into the MyHeritage Community

Israel Lisson ( 1856 - 1917) and his wife Dora Lisson (1863 - 1930) have been on my genealogy to-do list for quite some time. Israel and Dora Lisson immigrated as Jewish immigrants from Russia in the late 1880's and early 1890's and settled in Rochester, New York. As a genealogy researcher, I have been able to document their lives here in America.

As happens to most (if not all!) genealogy researchers, I eventually hit a brick wall in my research of the couple. I was unable to determine the parents of either Israel or Dora. My research into the Lisson family stalled here for quite a while. 

Recently, I returned to my research and picked up the trail again when I found the photograph below on FindAGrave.com.

Israel Lisson Tombstone

Israel & Dora Lisson, Britton Road Cemetery, Greece, NY (Source: FindAGrave used with permission)

This is great information for the researcher, but..... the back of the tombstone is where even more information was to be found. (You do check the back of your ancestors' tombstones, don't you?!)

Israel Lisson Tombstone - Back

(Back) Israel & Dora Lisson, Britton Road Cemetery, Greece, NY (Source: FindAGrave used with permission)

The back of the tombstone was engraved in Hebrew, and unfortunately, I do not speak or read Hebrew.  I needed help to translate the back of the tombstone.

I turned to the community section of MyHeritage. 


Source: MyHeritage

I uploaded the photograph of Israel and Dorothy's tombstone and inquired if anyone could translate the words on the stone. Within a few days, I had two  gracious genealogy researchers responded with the translation of the stone.

And here's the exciting part......

In the Jewish tradition on gravestones, the Hebrew side gave the names of Israel's father and Dora's father!


Reply to Translation Request at MyHeritage

The MyHeritage Community quickly and generously assisted me in the Lisson research. I can now pick up the trail and move forward in my research of  the Lisson ancestors.

Take Away For Your Research

Reach out to genealogy communities with your research questions as well as your genealogy answers to others' questions.

You can find active communities such as the MyHeritage Community on the major genealogy websites. Local genealogical societies often have active communities you can reach out to for help. Check locally where you live, and also, where your ancestors lived.

Note:  Photographs of the tombstones are used with permission of Sandi (Grimm) Enright, FindAGrave contributor.

Learn more about MyHeritage through the many free MyHeritage series webinars!


Lisa Lisson is the writer, educator and genealogy researcher behind Are You My Cousin? and believes researching your genealogy does not have to be overwhelming. All you need is a solid plan, a genealogy toolbox and the knowledge to use those tools. Lisa can be found online at LisaLisson.com , Facebook and Pinterest