Congratulations to Marcel our featured Volunteer of the Month for January, 2021! We’d like to recognize Marcel for his volunteer work throughout Belgium as well as many other countries, photographing cemeteries. Marcel is interested in history, architecture and symbols and has found that these interests all converge with the work in cemeteries. His hobby of cycling keeps him going from place to place and photographing cemeteries gives him a final destination.
A few extraordinary headstones Marcel has photographed
Marcel first ran into Find a Grave while researching information about soldiers who had fallen during WWII in his neighborhood. Huldenberg Churchyard had several WWII memorials but they didn’t have headstone photos added yet. He rode to the cemetery, photographed with his phone, cycled back and uploaded the photos to the memorials. One of the first memorials he photographed was Trevor Brown. Marcel liked it so much that he expanded to taking photographs of not only soldiers headstones, but any that were in the cemetery.
While exploring cemeteries and photographing headstones he has come across epitaphs that peaked his interest, such as Princess or an epitaph that commemorates a tragedy, like the one found here. Marcel enjoys learning and researching and considers interesting epitaphs a challenge to find out more. He finds symbols on headstones fascinating (like a broken column, representing a life cut short), is interested in the fact that the architecture of graves is influenced by time period (for example combining gothic and victorian designs), and enjoys discoveries like finding out that the material for the Commonwealth World War headstones was standardized, originally constructed with Portland Stone. Here are some examples:
He’s also had experience with cemeteries that have limited space, where graves will only be kept for a paid for or allotted time period. This grave, Germaine Cuesters, is marked stating that the concession is about to run out and what date the grave will be cleared unless that concession is prolonged. If a grave like this has been cleared, the Find a Grave memorial and headstone photograph may be the only record of the burial online. It shows how important it is to record these burials and memorialize those that have passed on. We asked Marcel to share some stories about cemeteries and graves he’s visited.
Over the years, I have travelled to many countries all over the world, and if possible, I try to visit a local cemetery. This has taken me to Morocco, UK, Poland, Estonia, Tanzania, The Netherlands, Cuba, Madagascar, France, etc. It’s marvelous to see the variety of headstones and graves throughout the world. Here are some of my favorites for a variety of reasons. Some of the grave sculptures are stunningly beautiful (check out “Danuta Kania” in Poland, or “Unknown” in Cmentarz Powązkowski, or “Fryda Van Damme” in Heverlee Abdij Het Park (which is in my hometown and which I find very moving as well as modern). Some have remarkable inscriptions, such as the tomb of “Marc De Geijter” in Gent Westerbegraafplaats. It doesn’t mention any dates but says “nada, noppes, er is helemaal niets” which roughly translates as “nothing, nothing – there is absolutely nothing.” The grave of Juana Martin de Martin in the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón in Cuba shows a giant domino stone. It remains shrouded in mystery since other sources on the internet attribute this grave to a “Louisa Martin.” Depending on the source, this grave is for a woman said to have died when she lost a game of dominoes or of a famed domino champion who, according to legend, died of heart failure with the winning “doble-tres” tile in her hand, which is immortalized on her tomb.
In the main cemetery in my home town, I once chatted to a pensioner who pointed out a grave (it was one of those “little houses”) and told me that, during the war, his father took him to that little house in the cemetery to take shelter during a bombing raid. According to him, there was a spiral staircase leading to an underground chamber where there were two coffins (one on each side), and each coffin had a glass frame in their lid so one could once see the face of that person. More than 60 years on, and it was still in his memory so that made a huge impression on him.
Marcel’s glad he volunteers and considers the records and photos he uploads to Find a Grave “time documents” and “historical archives.” The inscriptions and headstones themselves provide valuable information for genealogists or anyone trying to locate their ancestors. He’s received messages of gratitude in many different languages over the years and enjoys helping people.
Our accolades to you for your extraordinary work in cemeteries! We are so glad that you are a Find a Grave member and appreciate all your efforts in recording and memorializing those that have passed.
We welcome your suggestions for Volunteer of the Month. If you’d like to submit a volunteer for consideration in future months, please send an email with details of their work to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Find a Grave Team