The value of gravestone inscriptions
for ancestral research has long been recognised. The discovery of a single gravestone may provide more information on the history of a family than could otherwise be gleaned from documentary sources. Prior to 1864, when official registration of deaths began in Ireland, a gravestone inscription may be the only source of information about the existence of an individual.
Usually the deceased was buried in a graveyard in the parish in which they lived. However, this was not always the case. On many occasions the deceased was taken back to the parish of his birth for burial even if he was living somewhere else at the time of his death. Wills frequently include instructions from the testator regarding his preferred place of burial. At the Reformation most parish churches were taken over by the Church of Ireland. The existing church was either repaired or demolished and built afresh. However, even though the church may have belonged to the Church of Ireland, the graveyard attached to it was used by all denominations. The grounds of disused monasteries were also popular places of burial. Inscriptions
Memorials from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries frequently communicate more information about the departed than do more recent headstones. Information about the deceased's life, occupation and place of residence will often be recorded. While there was a direct correlation between the wealth of the deceased's family and the elaboration of the memorial, it must not be thought that gravestones were entirely the preserve of the elite. From the late seventeenth-century an increasing number of headstones were erected by people from the middling strata of society.
The gravestone inscriptions from a large number of graveyards in Ulster have been transcribed and published. The Ulster Historical Foundation also holds recordings of gravestone inscriptions for many graveyards in Ulster and has made these available for purchase on its History from Headstones Online website (www.historyfromheadstones.com). Many Ulster inscriptions appeared in the Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland, published in thirteen volumes between 1888 and 1937. In addition the inscriptions from a large number of other graveyards in Ulster have been published in the journals of local historical societies and in a number of books.
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