Gravestone Inscriptions...

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 hours of searching through documentary sources. A visit to the graveyard in which your ancestors are buried is, therefore, an essential part of compiling your family tree.

Discovering the graveyard in which your ancestors are buried is not necessarily straightforward. They may be buried in the graveyard adjoining the church to which your family belongs. Alternatively they may be buried in a graveyard no longer in use or adjoining another church.

Burial registers kept by a church are one way of finding the place of burial, but as was explained above, these have limitations and do not survive for every graveyard. In nearly every parish in Northern Ireland there is at least one graveyard pre-dating the Reformation of the sixteenth century. In these graveyards it is not unusual to find all denominations buried.

The information recorded on a gravestone varies considerably. Some gravestones will record the dates of death of several generations of one family. Others may simply record the family surname. In most graveyards there will be at least one gravestone that has an overseas connection. Ages of death on gravestones should be treated with some caution as they are often guesses or have been rounded up. Nonetheless they provide a basis for working out the year of birth which can be useful when it comes to looking for a birth certificate or record of baptism.

The Ulster Historical Foundation has recordings for a large number of graveyards in Northern Ireland. These are available on its History from Headstones Online website:

Another major resource on this website is a series of maps showing the location of graveyards. These are interactive so that it is possible to plot graveyards by denomination or view the location of all graveyards in a county at one time. Precise grid references are provided making it possible, using the Ordnance Survey Discoverer series of maps (1:50,000 scale), to pinpoint exactly the site of a graveyard. Case studies look in detail at individual graveyards and there is also a guide to how to study a graveyard.

Irish World has also made its gravestone inscriptions available online at

Many inscriptions appeared in the Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland, published in twelve volumes between 1888 and 1931. These recordings are particularly useful if the gravestone can no longer be traced. There are sets of the Memorials of the Dead in the Linen Hall Library and Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.