• The Center for African American Genealogical Research, Inc.


Visiting a cemetery in a small, rural area requires some advance preparation. Below are some tips in preparing for the outing.

Determine of there is a caretaker for the cemetery. Asking a few simple questions abut the condition and exact location of the cemetery will go a long way in preparing for the visit. If at all possible, arrange a time and date to have the caretaker to meet you there. Chances are, this person knows more about who is buried there than you realize. If the cemetery has no caretaker, take a moment to visually survey the environment before you begin your journey through the past. How big is it? Is it overgrown or in a wooded area? How do you enter and exit ? If you are visiting during warm weather, are there trees for shade?

If you have to travel out of town to investigate a cemetery, please consider the weather conditions for each region before you plan your trip. For example, Florida is a very humid state during the summer going into early fall. Arizona can reach temperatures well into the hundreds during the summer and that's in the shade! You should also consider the natural predators that tend to make their presence known during the summer: red ants, mosquitoes, ticks, wasps, spiders, field mice and snakes. The best time to visit a cemetery is in the spring or fall. Alas, if you must go in the summer, then go to the cemetery very early in the morning before the sun begins to warm things up.

Based upon the location and the season, dress appropriately. Remember, many African American cemeteries are located in the thick of woods where you might find more predators than the few mentioned above. make it difficult for mosquitoes and ticks by wearing long sleeves, jeans and closed-toe shoes. Gardener gloves and wide brimmed will also be a plus.

Finally, on the day before you plan to walk the cemetery, drive by it first to see if you have a cell phone signal. If you don't, you should try and have another person to go with you for the official walk through. Safety should be of paramount interest but accidents do happen and it is important the emergency personnel can be called upon if needed.

Headstone Inscriptions


a.a.s.: died in the year of his/her age (73 years died in 1868)
d.s.p.: died without issue
d.s.p.l.: died without legitimate issue
d.s.p.m.s.: died without surviving male issue
d.s.p.s: died without surviving issue
d.unm: died unmarried
d.v.p.: died in the lifetime of his father
d.v.m.: died in the lifetime of his mother
Et al: and others
F.L.T.: friendship, love and truth
Inst: present month
Liber: book or volume
Nepos: grandson
Nunc Nun: an oral will, written by a witness
Ob: he/she died
Rel. or Relict: widow or widower
Res. or Residue: widow or widower
Sic: exact copy as written
Testes: witnesses
Ult: late
Ux or vs: wife
Viz: namely

Trade Symbols

Barber: Bowl (for bleeding) & Razor
Butcher: an axe, steel knife and cleaver
Farmer: Coulter (type of hoe), flail (threshing implement), swingletree (rod for beating flax), stalk of corn
Gardener: rake & spade
Mason: wedge & level
Mariner: anchor, sextant
Merchant: scales, sign
Minister: Bible
Shoemaker: awl, knife, nippers
Smith: crown, hammer & anvil
Teacher: open book
Weaver: loom, shuttle & stretchers
Wood Wright: wooden objects they made

Misc. Symbols

3 Books: Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants
3 Rings: the Oddfellows, friendship, love and truth
Angel: guardian, spirituality
Bible: Christian
Chalice: Sacraments
Cherub: innocence
Crescent: Goddess, Muslim religion
Cross: Christian, resurrection
Crown: glory of life after death
Flame / Light: to be immortal
Garland / Wreath: glory, Saintliness
Harp: Praise to the God
Heart: Catholic, love, suffering of Christ
Hearts (2): marriage
Horns: wisdom, rebirth
Menorah: Judaism
Obelisk: Mason or Egyptian to represent Ra, the giver of life Ring (broken): family circle has been severed
Rod / Staff: comfort
Star: spirit that shines
Star of David: Judaism
Sun: renewed life
Swords Crossed: high Military rank
Trumpeters: Harbingers of the Resurrection
Urn: immortality, remembrance


Birds: eternal life or resurrection
Butterfly: short life
Dog: good master
Dove: peace & eternal life
Lamb: innocence
Lion: courage
Rooster: awakening, resurrection.


Fruits: plenty, fruits of life
Ivy: friendship, immortality
Laurel: accomplishment, heroism
Lily: innocence, purity
Morning Glory: beginning of life
Oak, Leaves and Acorn: power, victory
Palm Branch: victory, rejoicing
Poppy: eternal sleep
Roses: completion and the brevity of earthly existence
Rose (full bloom): prime of life
Rosemary: remembrance
Thistles: remembrance, Scottish descent
Tree: life
Tree Trunk: short life
Tree Sapling: life everlasting
Tree Stump stone in Cemetery: Woodmen of the World
Wheat: divine harvest
Weeping Willow: grief




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