Tombstone Data by Happy Englela
The inscriptions in cemeteries can be of great assistance when tracing ancestors but there cannot be anything more frustrating than attempting to find someone known to be in a large cemetery for which no proper records exist. Apart from names and dates headstone generally give an indication that the person was unmarried or the name of a spouse can be established as married couples usually share a double grave.
Municipal records are usually of little assistance if they exist at all. Most records list graves according to the numbers allocated so there is still the long job of scrolling through large registers only to find that initials were used which results in having several individuals with the same details. Then there is the problem of establishing the sometimes inexplicable system of numbering when once in the cemetery. As an example, in one town where there are sixteen blocks of graves, fifteen were numbered from right to left and one, somewhere in the middle, was numbered in the opposite direction!
A few cemeteries do have numbers on many of the graves in the form of small metal plates attached to spikes that are pushed into the ground at the foot of the grave. These rust, are trampled flat, accidentally kicked or dislodged by weed-eaters and then frequently find their way to completely different graves. The only solution has been to completely re-number all cemeteries and generate a modern database that can be sorted alphabetically and makes provision for recording any existing numbers as well.
Frequently the inscriptions themselves are incomplete as initials, familiar names or only single given names have been engraved. In a few cases the surnames have been completely overlooked and were never recorded. Errors are sometimes found in the dates where the most frequent differences have been found in the recorded deaths when the undertaker has engraved the burial date. Errors of a year are sometimes encountered when the headstone in erected a year after the actual burial and that year is quoted with the correct day and month.
A great deal of information has been lost as many of the farm cemeteries have been allowed to deteriorate through changes of ownership. It is, in any case, impossible to visit every farm where the older graves are to be found.
Editor: The Genealogical Society of South Africa have a Cemetery Project for which members collect cemetery information. This is then made available on a disk for purchase. Our library has the latest edition 5.1 which contains 250000 names from 2314 cemeteries.
The project leaders also produce a newsletter GSSA Cemetery Recording News that provides a country-wide round up of activities around the country.
If you would like to subscribe to this newsletter contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Society is considering how we can assist the GSSA in the Western Cape with this project. Be a volunteer!