Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tombstone Clues

What Did You Miss?
I recently read a post by Valerie Craft entitled Why You Read the Back of a Tombstone with a photo of the carved headstone. Six lines of unidentifiable acronyms on the back of a tombstone were just waiting to be discovered.  Although my signature line is “for every answer you find, you will probably uncover  3 new questions,” in Valerie’s case she found her ancestor’s tombstone and uncovered six new unanswered questions: 
S. L. E. No 34
L. O. O. F.
A. L. No. 14
I. O. O. F.
G. T. No. G
I. O. OF R. M.

A novice might ask “why are acronyms and abbreivations on a tombstone important? Valerie answered: “I’d be very interested in researching any organization that this man belonged to. It would tell me a lot about his religious and political beliefs and point me in the direction of further genealogical sources.”

A Leap of Faith
If this just looks like Greek to you, well don’t rule out Greek fraternities. Or, it could be a list of societies that your ancestor belonged to. It might be that your ancestor was indigent and charitable groups assisted in paying burial fees. 

At First Glance
Of course the key to your positive identification of tombstone (or document) acronyms and abbreviations must include local research. You will need to verify the existence and involvement of any organization in your area.

Of course the key to your positive identification of tombstone (or document) acronyms and abbreviations must include local research. You will need to verify the existence and involvement of any organization in your area. At first glance here are some possibilities but verification is needed:
  • SLE#34 may be a local chapter of the Sons of Liberty. Could it stand for Sons of Liberty - East? Was there a Sons of Liberty #34 chapter?
  • LOOF- Local chapters of national organizations often included indicators of their chapter since they usually had their own budget set aside for community assistance. It is possible that LOOF references a Local(Lodge) Order of Odd Fellows.
  • I. O. O. F – Independent Order of Odd Fellows most often used this acronym. (Also identified by Craft).
  • AL: American Legion of Honor was started in 1874.  Was there an AL #14 in this area?
  • GT No G: Good Templar organizations were popular. Was there a GT of Georgia (or Gwinnett)?
  • I. O. OF R. M. – The Improved Order of Red Men. (Also identified by Craft). There website  boasts “America’s oldest fraternal organization.”
Where to Find Your Answers
As I mentioned earlier, before beginning your search, gathering information on the events of the local area for your timeframe is imperative. Historical events of an area often increased the need of societal and charitable organizations. Political events and community divisiveness often birthed secret organizations. Recessions, national and world financial depressions, plagues and epidemics all had a direct impact on the increase (or decline) of the need of charitable organizations.

Here are 5 places to learn of your ancestor’s involvement in a society, fraternity or charitable organization.
1.      Obituary - Often memberships to charitable and ethnic associations or fraternal organizations (i.e. Masons or Greek) are listed. Final services may be held at a temple or lodge. These hints should be researched.
2.      Funeral Home Records - Funeral records often hold financial records indicating payment of services, and correspondence with interest parties.
3.      Cemetery Records – Like the Old Fellows Cemetery in Morton County North Dakota, many charitable organizations had their own cemetery for burials of the indigent or members.
4.      Newspaper - Many organizations solicited membership or announced meetings via the newspapers. Immigrants were often sponsored or they supported ethnic societies.  Review Immigrant Society Records and Genealogy.
5.      City Directories may list lodges – When deciphering acronyms or associations be sure they are applicable to your area.  City directories usually include the local Lodges, Posts, or meeting places.

Further Research
Kathleen Brandt
a3genealogy@gmail.com
Accurate, accessible answers 

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