Death & Society

Our lab these past few weeks had us take data at a cemetery. We were sectioned off to record a part of the cemetery and take note of the inscription on the gravestones, whether or not it was part of a family plot, the size, shape, and material of the stone, and their age. It was sad to find some young children’s graves and even graves of those who were recently deceased.

With all of the class’ data compiled, we looked at the frequency of shapes and how this changed over time. I found this difficult since more people in the cemetery had died earlier than the 2000s so the stylistic changes would not be completely accurate.
Next, we were to choose from our seriation and to analyze one of three choices. I chose to analyze the frequency of kinship terms. It was very broad to put into a graph, as not every single gravestone used a term of endearment. What I found was that many of the stones with kinship terms were female. There were almost 200 graves, and out of those 200 were around 50 stones that used terms such as “mother,” “father,” “sister,” etc. Out of these 50 stones, there were 32 with inscriptions “mom,” “aunt,” “wife,” etc. This could mean that maybe female figures were more “cherished” in terms of family and the home.

The next thing I found particularly interesting. Earlier gravestones, from the late 1800s to before the 1930s used “his wife,” or “wife of”. In around the mid-1920s, the gravestones from this cemetery used more “mother,” or “beloved wife and mother,” instead of being a man’s wife. I wonder if we would see this same trend if we looked at other cemeteries in the Seattle area.

There was only one instance where they used “son,” and he was an infant when died. There were three other times where their daughters were referred to as “angels”, also in infancy when they passed. All three of these girls passed away in the 1960s, which raises the question as to what could’ve happened during that time that caused them to pass at such a young age (at zero months to four months old). Could it have been due to the environment around them? Could it have been because they were suffering from fatal birth defects?

Either way, it would be interesting to see if there were different trends in another cemetery or to see if they were the same. I think it would also be fascinating to see comparative studies on cemeteries by region.

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