Decoding Grave Symbols – An Interview with Joy Neighbors: Episode 142

By Family Tree Editors

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Gravestones in a misty cemetery at dawn. Family Tree podcast logo in the upper left hand corner.

Author Joy Neighbors joins Lisa to talk about cemetery research and how you can use gravestone symbols to discover more about your ancestors. Plus, our DNA experts discusses testing deceased relatives and we explore strategies for success on Find a Grave.

Ep. 142: October 2020

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In this episode:

Tree Talk (01:15)

Lisa shares Family Tree Podcast listener Devin Meireles’s story of his grandfather Manuel De Lima Meireles and the family’s Portuguese-Canadian roots.

Share your story of discovery and you may just hear it here on the Family Tree Magazine Podcast! Email your story to:

Feature Interview: Joy Neighbors (05:27)

A walk through a cemetery when researching ancestors can be a little haunting, and yet a beautiful and reflective experience. Aside from the names, birthdates, and death dates, there are sometimes clues and even secrets embedded in tombstones. Joy Neighbors, author of the book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide: How to Find, Record, and Preserve Your Ancestors’ Graves helps us decode the mystery of grave stone symbols.

Joy Neighbors and Lisa Louise Cooke
Joy neighbors and Lisa Louise Cooke.

A bit of history about symbols:

  • Puritans started adding skulls and cross bones to tombstones.
  • In the 18th century the grim reaper became popular and was perhaps meant to instill the fear of God in those left behind.
  • In the 19th century Victorians loved including secret messages on tombstones.

DNA Deconstructed: Testing Someone Who Has Passed Away (16:10)

We don’t always get a chance get a parent’s DNA tested before they pass. Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard is here to explain your testing options.

Best Genealogy Websites: Find a Grave (22:52)

Find a Grave is home to the world’s largest collection of gravestone records — and it’s all free. Author Sunny Morton provides tips for using Find a Grave to build a bigger, better family tree.

  1. See what a name search reveals.
  2. Look for other relatives buried nearby.
  3. Harvest historical evidence.
  4. Learn more about the cemetery.
  5. Thank volunteers and collaborate with relatives.
  6. Add what you know.
  7. Leave a personal memento.

Editor’s Desk (34:19)

Family Tree Magazine editor Andrew Koch gives us a sneak peek at the November / December 2020 issue of the magazine which includes an article on the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing and the new 75 Best State Websites list.

Upcoming Family Tree University courses:

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Your Host: Lisa Louise Cooke

Listen to Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcast in your favorite podcasting app or with the Genealogy Gems Podcast app in your app store, and visit her website for great research ideas, podcast episodes and videos.

Have fun climbing your family tree!

Lisa Louise Cooke, host of the Family Tree Magazine podcast.