Well, today is actually when I first appeared!
But, when we depart this life, some of us will be remembered with a gravestone, memorial tablet or tombstone within the churchyard or even within the church itself. Sadly, some burial plots will be left unmarked.
Most churchyards, with lych gate, paths and trees, probably date from the Victorian period, but you can often reach further back in time by studying the gravestones. You may well find some graves from the seventeenth century. If you are lucky enough to locate stones dating this far back, these will be the graves of the better-off families of the village or town. But, by the eighteenth century, the fashion had spread to most households though the poorest people may not have had gravestones even in the Victorian period, when some of the richer locals were commemorating their dead with elaborate memorials. Below is the commemoration for Isaac Merritt Singer and his extended family in Torquay.
And here is the burial plot for my great-grandparents, Francis William and Emma Grace Maunder, only located by consulting the records held at the cemetery in Tavistock, Devon:
In any churchyard, it is worth looking for groups of gravestones with the same surname. These are likely to belong to long-resident families of the community. You may find their names appearing again in parish and census records. If the local stone has weathered badly and the wording is unreadable, it is worth checking with the local record office or family history society to see if they have made a list of monumental inscriptions to record all the details.
There are many unusual – and often humorous – epitaphs in cemeteries and burial grounds of England including Nathaniel Godbold, Esq. in Godalming, Surrey:
To the Memory Of
Nathaniel Godbold, Esq.
Inventor and Proprietor
of that Excellent Medicine
The Vegetable Balsam
For the Cure of Consumption and Asthmas
He departed this Life
The 17th Day of Decr., 1799
Aged 69 Years
His ashes are here, his fame is everywhere
At St Giles Burial Ground, London, William Bingham has been laid to rest:
In Memory of William Bingham, Surgeon to the Fever Hospital, Pancras Road, who departed this life May 31st, 1821, aged 28 years. His death was occasioned by puncturing his finger whilst sewing up a dead body
And then there was John Higgs, pig-killer of Cheltenham, died 26 November 1825, buried St Mary with St Matthew, Cheltenham.
Here lies John Higgs
A famous man for killing pigs,
For killing pigs was his delight
Both morning, afternoon and night
Both heats and cold he did endure
Which no Physician could e’er cure;
His knife is laid, his work is done,
I hope to heaven his soul is gone.