So what can you learn from a graveyard?

Cemeteries. Typically seen as dark, depressing places continuously shrouded in rain, not really the place you’d want to do a study at. However, that is exactly what we did. Through the examination of the features of headstones, such as epitaphs, shape, size, material etc. cultural norms from various eras can be inferred upon. One aspect of this that intrigued me was the use of kinship terms. Through my initial observations it seemed more often than not terms such as wife or mother were being used on female gravestones, while terms such as father were almost absent. To create a clearer image of this I created a seriation based on the use of kinship terms overtime:The seriation demonstrates a clear disparity between the use of ‘wife’ and the use of ‘husband’.The term wife is most commonly used at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. During this same time period the term husband is rarely seen. This could be a result of societal norms which placed  greater importance on the marital status of women than it did for men;women who were not married were seen as societal outcasts, while men were seen as bachelors. This would explain why it was thought necessary to define a woman by her husband.

We encounter a similar trend when we look at the use of mother and father. Between 1890 and now mother is almost continuously used on head stones. In contrast, father is not used until the 1930s and even then we do not witness a continued use of the term to the present. This indicates that it was and still is thought that the relationships in a woman’s life, particularly that of a mother and child, are of great importance to their identity, while the identity of men are better represented by their name.

The terms daughter and son were uncommon. I cannot see any discernable trends in the use of the two terms over time. The few headstones that did have daughter and son on them were child graves. From this I am assuming that the only time these kinship terms were used was when a child died before their parent.

Well that’s all for now. If you’re interested in learning more about this particular topic I encourage to pop down to your local graveyard and make note of the kinship terms used over time.

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