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Tombstone Tuesday: Cemetery Sleuths, Part 1

Posted by Renee Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"'Dum Tacet Clamat,’” I read. “What do you think it means?”

"I don’t know. Let’s collect the evidence and take it in for analysis,” my partner responded.

Back at the house, our team formed a tight circled around the table. “We spent all morning collecting evidence at the scene, Chief. It seems to confirm our suspicions.”

“Show me what you’ve got,” she said, unrolling the tight paper tube. The evidence appeared in relief – a gravestone rubbing showing a dove with an olive branch flying over a split log - and the legend, ‘Dum Tacet Clamet,’ and below; ‘JAMES W. MORGAN, NOV. 4, 1855 – JUNE 1, 1904. GONE FROM OUR HOME, BUT NOT FROM OUR HEARTS. HERE RESTS A WOODMAN OF THE WORLD.’

‘Dum Tacet Clamat’ – it’s Latin for “Though silent, he speaks,” the Chief translated. And so he does…

The modest cemetery monument of James W. Morgan speaks silent volumes about the man who rests there. From it, we learned his name, his age, his likely social standing and fraternal affiliation, and how those who survived him felt toward him: a simple walk through an ancestral cemetery plot yields a legacy.

Cemeteries provide a valuable, tangible link with the past, and a trip there presents a perfect opportunity to form your own family Cemetery Sleuth Investigation (CSI) Team and explore your cryptic family mysteries.

Grave markers reveal not only names and dates, but often offer data that in many cases can be found nowhere else; ethnic origins, occupations and affiliations, beliefs and values, manner of death, names of relatives, even personal traits that survivors held dear. And, as in the case of James W. Morgan, not everything is clearly etched in epitaph – gravestones can hold intricately carved hidden clues. We might have easily dismissed the phrase ‘woodman of the world’ as simply homage to the man’s pioneering spirit, had not the ‘dove & log’ symbol (associated with ‘Woodmen of the World,’ a fraternal society founded in 1890) been carved above.

When gathering ‘evidence’ at the cemetery, make sure to record accurate source information for future researchers. And once back home, remember to follow up on clues: it took less than a minute on a Google search to determine the origins of the symbolism on James Morgan’s gravestone and trace his connection to the Woodmen of the World, as well as reveal the society’s compelling history.

If you would like to investigate to the scene, but aren’t sure where your ancestors are buried, there are a number on online resources for finding information about cemeteries across the globe (start at FamilySearch.org); also, a cemetery directory (such as Cemeteries of the U.S.: A Guide to Contact Information for U.S. Cemeteries and Their Records) can assist you in determining which cemeteries are in the area of your ancestors’ last residence. Once the burial site has been located, the cemetery, if still in existence, can be contacted to schedule a visit and request copies of burial records.

Your efforts will pay off – you and your team will gain valuable information, and might even solve a family mystery or two... in a place where even the silent speak.

Family Photoloom Members: Tombstones are easy to index (i.e. attach to specific names so you can find them later):

  1. Upload the tombstone picture to your Family Photoloom account.
  2. Drag-and-drop the individual's Record Icon onto the picture. (The Record Icon is the little box by their name on the left.)
That's it - you're done. The tombstone picture now will appear in the Portrait Column on the right any time that individual is selected, along with any other images you have tagged of that individual.

If you don't yet have a Family Photoloom account, please sign up for your Free Trial Account today!

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