A graveyard is the accessible source for the studying the history of a local community. Gravestone inscriptions have long been valued by historians and genealogists.
The information recorded on gravestones varies considerably.
Some will bear the name of the family interred beneath the stone and nothing else. Others may contain detailed information about several generations of one family. A date of death will usually be given for each person named on the gravestone. Ages will be frequently given. This allows for a year of birth to be estimated. The relationship between the individuals recorded on the gravestone will often be indicated: ‘son of’, ‘husband of’, ‘sister of’ etc. Many gravestones will provide the residence and/or the occupation of the deceased. In some cases this will not be a recognised townland name. A memorial to a soldier may state where he had fought. Some inscriptions will even give the cause of death, particularly if it was the result of military action or death at sea in a shipwreck. Many memorials will have an overseas connection of some kind. A headstone may have been erected at the cost of a family member living overseas or it may commemorate a family member who died abroad.
Graveyards are special places where the memories of the dead can be commemorated by the community they served. Public memorials have been erected by communities to express their appreciation of the service and achievements of individuals, notably medical doctors. War memorials perpetuate the gratitude of the community for those who served and died for their country. A visit to nearly any graveyard will reveal that memorials were by no means the preserve of the wealthier members of society. Many gravestones commemorate people from fairly humble backgrounds.
Gravestones provide an ideal launch pad for any genealogical investigation. Often it is possible to relate the information provided by the inscription to other sources such as wills, newspapers, census returns etc. In this way it will be possible to build up a picture of the social world in which past individuals lived. A visit to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland is strongly recommended.