If Tombstones Could Talk



I have many interesting stories about my ancestors:

  • I have a great-grandfather who drowned in the Misssissippi River while returning on a barge from delivering a herd of cattle up the river. There was always a question of foul-play, but no charges were ever filed.
  • My paternal grandfather was a soloist at his church in Rhode Island, Roger Williams’ Baptist Church. One Sunday night after singing a solo, he returned to his spot in the choir. Before the end of the service he had a massive heart attack. It had always been his wish to die singing, and he did.
  • My great-grandmother, Sarah (Grace’s Mother) died in the Great Flu epidemic of 1918. (If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, it was the same epidemic that took the life of Matthew’s fiance.) She had been visiting her sick daughter’s home and became ill herself while she was there. Once she recovered, her husband Frank came to pick her up. The rocky wagon ride home caused a relapse from which she never recovered. I had the chance with my Mom a few years ago to visit the cemetery where Sarah Kirwin is buried. Seeing the place where Frank laid her to rest made her story seem so much more real to me.

I enjoy visiting cemeteries, not to be morbid, but to pause and consider the lives of those who once lived.

Remembering them gives them respect, and knowing their story is even better for it honors them in a way nothing else can. I wish tombstones had a sign explaining their personal story for all who pass by, like the Vietnam Memorial Wall in D.C. does. Reading the laminate pages left by loved ones brought those in memoriam to life. However, there are times when the headstone tells a story without words. Consider this headstone of a young disabled boy named Matthew. Such a powerful story that gives me chills, yet warms my heart. What a loving way for his parents to express their faith in God and love for their son.


  • Probably the most tragic story in our family was how my great-grandmother on my Dad’s side of the family died. She lived in Maine. One cold winter she was caring for her sick child holding him close by the hearth to keep warm when a spark from the fire caught her long dress on fire. She ran out of the house to protect her children as well as the house with the intent of rolling in the snow to extinguish the flames. Sadly the snow had iced over, making it impossible for her to escape. She died, leaving her husband a widower and several children without a mother.

These stories are sad, but I believe knowing them brings understanding to those who were affected by the sadness when it happened. Now for today’s question to help you discover your own story.

Question #4.

If your grandparents or great-grandparents are no longer alive, do you know when and how they died? Do you know where they’re buried? This may seem like a basic question, but one to which many don’t know the answer.

What about you? Do you have some interesting stories to share? If you don’t know, I encourage you take the time to find out–one question at a time.

“If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories and tell them too.

The tales may not seem very important, but they are what binds families and makes each of us who we are. “

I am taking part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge to post every day in April.