Jigsaw Puzzles

It’s possible that the inscription found on a headstone can solve a mystery that has puzzled you for years, but sometimes the headstone is a puzzle itself. That was the experience of Find a Grave® volunteer, Christine Hanson, and her daughter at Slate Ridge Cemetery when they found headstone jigsaw puzzles by happenstance.

This cemetery sits high on a hill which overlooks the small town of Delta, Pennsylvania. Christine and her daughter were in the process of fulfilling photo requests that day. There are two sections and the old section doesn’t include a lot of shady spots.

Photo credit: Victoria Merryman-Robbins

They were working out in the sun and after awhile took a break by a small grove of bushes. Christine shared her story with us.

While we were getting some shade, it was obvious there were stone pieces all around us. Some just above the soil line, some that one would never see without digging. We began the process of carefully recovering the stones, turning them over to see if they had intact carving on them, digging out those that were barely visible and so on. 

Photo credit: Christine Hanson

There were many types of stone used in this graveyard (including metal), though the majority were black slate, due to the huge slate quarry which sits below the cemetery. Initially we turned the stones over and left them in place, though when stones are found along the periphery, they tend to be nowhere close to the actual place of interment. There is always a combination of sadness and excitement when we find these pieces, particularly when we find multiple pieces of the same stone. It gives me an incredible sense of satisfaction when I find stones which are not currently documented and I am able to add them to Find a Grave, but even more so when I am literally able to piece together a broken stone that has been scattered about and left as rubble.

Photo credit: Christine Hanson

Elizabeth’s stone was in a pile of slate pieces not far from the edge of the cemetery, along the crest of the hill. We assembled her stone, along with many others and took photos. There was no way to tell where this person was initially buried, so like the others, we left them as they were, where they were, but assembled properly in a readable fashion. Again, we could tell she died in the 1700s, but that is a hundred-year span.

Her Find a Grave memorial existed, with a photo of three possible above ground stones taken in 2012 by another volunteer. Finding her stone allowed us to add a photo of her exact information to the Find a Grave memorial. Neither photo shows us exactly where she was buried, but considering this is a headstone from 1773 that may not be recorded anywhere else, it is so rewarding that I would be doing this everyday if I could!

Photo credit: Christine Hanson

John Wright’s stone was a particular challenge. It was carved from a local brownstone, which is very grainy and crumbles easily, not to mention the stone being over 150 years old and not well cared for. Still, we were able to find nearly all the pieces and reassemble them on the ground before photographing. The biggest challenge for that stone was finding the ‘when’ of Mr. Wright’s life. The only year had worn away. It was only just recently that we conclusively were able to match the stone to the young man and added the photo to his Find a Grave memorial.

These bits of stone, assembled into a complete picture, help me to add bits of information to often incomplete records. To me, each marker represents a human being, once living and breathing with a story or stories to share. 

Thank you to all Find a Grave volunteers. Your valuable work and efforts are making a difference and helping family members with personal discoveries every day.

165 comments

  1. I wish I lived somewhere that had those old tombstones and graveyards. I’d love to do those types of things. In Florida we have very few to none from those ages.

    • Keep looking, Debra! Thoughts of preserving old Florida cemeteries run from serious to ‘this is a nuisance’. I know one cemetery that was in the way of new construction. The county laid down all the head stones, covered them with dirt & paved part of them over – all the while insisting they did it to protect them from vandalism. Leon county citizens just triumphed in saving a 100+ yr old African American cemetery from falling victim to a housing development. Not all burial grounds are in towns or are laid out as you expect. Some contain just a few graves & are barely visible under thick foliage. Explore old maps & plantation grounds & start looking! When you find an unregistered grave site, contact the FL Division of Historical Resources. Good luck!

    • Debra, come over to New Orleans, you can get lost in all the old fascinating cemetery’s. They have some really old graves and legends say some are haunted!

    • Debra, I am originally from Florida. Remember that there was very few people settled in Florida except for St Augustine. The cemetery there is quite interesting. You should go and check it out. Florida was a Spanish settlement then Great Britian took it over for 20 years then back to Spain. I think it was around 1845 that the US took possession. I also know of a very interesting old cemetery in Tallahassee. The population of Florida was mostly in the northern part. Jacksonville has an two old cemeteries you should also check out. Population growth of Florida did not take off statewide until the 1920s I think.

    • When we were kids a cemetery was across the street from my grandparent’s house and we used to play hide and seek with the huge. yes tumbstones

  2. please correct the cemetary for my grandmother correct is sacred heart in dundalk,md you show it as oaklawn cemetary in dundalk,md i put the stone in so i know sacred heart is correct i am 92 yrs old please correct before i die margaret finnerty hess stone is for margaret dunnigan -finnerty

      • I think you’re looking for #39386086 – Margaret Dunnigan Finnerty

      • Thanks for your help. This memorial looks to be in the correct cemetery.

      • suggestions: way to find victims of USS COLE or TITANIC, ETC
        MEMORIALS WITHOUT FLOWERS

      • Please help me with Mr. C M Reed who keeps emailing me. Memorial #107393749 shows the name James C Allen which was created by Mr. Reed 27 Mar 2013 with photo of marker also showing his name. Photo of female and her bio match, but she is NOT Mr. Allen. I requested help in fixing error. Mr. Reed says he did not place a photo there. He has an attitude so I am requesting he stop emailing me. Please help me. LPybus

    • My Great Grandmother I think is buried in Brandon Chapel Methodist church in Tennessee. Their cemetery is overgrown and inaccessible. Wish I could see her gravestone. It is so sad

      • I live in Tennessee. Sometimes, these over grown cemeteries are accessible in the winter when everything dies. If I had her name, I’d look next time I’m out that way. It’s about about 1.5 hours away.

  3. Thank you so much for this wonderful work; You all are real angels. Just imagine how grateful the family of “Elizabeth” are.

  4. I too am very appreciative of all of the hard work these volunteers perform. Years ago, I got a shock when I discovered a newspaper article where my grandfather (age 32) eloped with Gracie Louisa Alsop (age 16) in 1896 — and NOT my grandmother! There was never any further record of what happened to her. Fast forward to last fall, where I was once again doing my annual Google of dead-ends, when I found her on Find-a-Grave! “CG”, who manages Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg, VA had recently added her. Sadly she and her baby girl died in childbirth… Gracie was 19. I contacted “CG” to thank her and she said after documenting all the stones, she was now going thru the old cemetery books! Keep up the great work!! And don’t stop searching!!

  5. I’m looking for August Bertie in Pennsylvania. He died October 11, 1900 in a coal mine accident in Shaner, PA. I’m trying to locate his grave. His family was in McKeesport, buried in Bridgeville. His wife Antonia remarried after his death and was buried with another spouse.

  6. This article is deeply appreciated! I also have ancestors buried in Slate Ridge Cemetery and also nearby Chestnut Level Cemetery and the Boyd family cemetery on Slate Hill Road in Peach Bottom, PA. Many of those headstones were made & carved by talented Welsh craftsmen. When I first discovered my Boyd relatives, after a prolonged search, I was unaware of the volunteer work involved in preserving and recording these historic sites. Unfortunately now I live in North Carolina, far from any ancestors.

  7. I have Mitchell relatives buried in Slate Ridge Cemetery. The earliest Mitchell’s settled in York County, Pennsylvania in the 1600’s. How exciting that you’ve been able to piece together gravestones.

    • I am doing genealogy now and find a lot of information on Find a Grave. Thanks to each and everyone that take the photos and post them and take your valuable time helping us who are trying to do our family history!

    • We, Historic Crown Hill Cemetery in Pasadena, TX, have done that.
      It’s expensive and not very accurate.

  8. I love that you do this in the cemeteries. I hate seeing a neglected cemeteries. It breaks my heart. The people lying their deserve respect. Our cemetery here at home had so many stones broken, they got them fixed though. They look great now. There is another small cemetery that the grass and weeds are never cut. It looks pitiful. It breaks my heart. Thank you for your loving Christian work.

  9. I am amazed at all the hard work done by volunteers for Find a Grave. Thank you very much!

    • I am just amazed as well at the care and effort put into this volunteer work! Thank you!

  10. This is wonderful work that you are doing! Thank you for being so caring for the families of lost loved ones who are never far from our thoughts.

  11. Like Christine Hanson above, I have encountered broken headstones in my graveyard searches too, along with badly weathered stones that are virtually unreadable. They present challenges to us. Sometimes we are able to figure out who they were, other times not.

    One cemetery that i worked in MN had a series of white crosses mixed in with the headstones. When I investigated, they all said “known only to God”. I thought it was a nice gesture to at least identify the location of the unmarked graves. I run across a lot of unmarked graves when I am doing photo requests.

  12. Please tell me this is not flour or chalk or some other foreign substance on the stone. Over time, this will destroy the monument completely. It will be unreadable within probably 4 years, if not sooner.

      • Put a thin piece of paper (i.e. tracing paprt) over the stone, then rub it with chalk or another soft substance. No harm will come to the stone and you will have the copy for your file

      • A mirror and sunlight. Even a rubbing can damage a monument (maybe not likely, but it depends on a lot of factors). Also, if a monument happens to be unstable, you may topple it. This could do permanent damage to the monument or to the person doing the rubbing. It’s just not worth it. Use a mirror, sunlight, and a camera. I got my 5 foot mirror at Walmart for about 6 bucks a couple years ago.

      • Wet and Forget works wonders. Mix it in a sprayer 5 parts water to 1 part Wet and Forget. Just spray and let it do it’s job. Wont harm the stone. Rain and wind help the process. No scrubbing required..

      • Wet and Forget is not recommended. It has ionic salts that WILL eventually damage the stone. I obviously cannot control what you do, but please talk to professional preservationists like those at the NCPTT.

      • Wet and Forget is one of the products the VA approves for cleaning grave markers. This is copied from their site. https://www.cem.va.gov/hmm/cleaning.asp. ⇒ If the headstone or marker displays biological growth (algae, mildew, moss, lichens), water with a product formulated for cleaning these growths may be required. Examples include: Prosoco ReVive, Cathedral Stone Bio-Cleaner, Wet and Forget, and D/2 Biological Solution.* Not sure where you got your wrong information.

      • MR. COFFMAN, I AM A HANDICAPPED SENIOR. YOUR RESPONSE WAS INAPPROPRIATE.

  13. I love these stories. My personal mission on Find a Grave is to reunite families when I can, especially infants. For some reason, it makes me feel happy when I reconnect an infant with his/her parents and siblings. Keep up the good work, y’all!

    • Deanna, Thank you for your comment and service. I am looking for some infants in the mid 1800s in south central New York, and Wisconsin, or anywhere along the trail from Connecticut to Wisconsin. How do I go about finding their grave sites? Thanks!
      Bev

  14. Trying to find graves for George Albert Gammon, 1848-1876, died nyc; Benjamin Wells Gammon, 1879-1972, died in FL while resident of nyc.

  15. Wow, I signed up to do this in our area of PA,, but then never did it, this makes me interested in really getting to it

  16. CHRISTINE, Thank You so much for your Dedication. When we are drawn to do Special Searches and it each comes together—it is very emotional to me…..I am sure it is to you also. We can only imagine many times how that person may have looked—-the things that they loved and cherished……and to me—I feel that you bring them back to life for others to know they lived and loved—just like we do.

    There are words to a song that I grew up singing: “If I can help somebody along life’s way, then my living will not be in vain.” There are different ways we can help—and each way is precious and important.

  17. I wish someone would reassemble the many fragments remaining at Point of Rocks cemetery, Connellsville, Fayette, PA. It’s a very old and dilapidated graveyard… my Revolutionary War ancestor is said to have been buried there in 1817.

  18. There are so many “mean” people in the world today. It makes hearing about nice people all the more refreshing while instilling hope in our inner being. God bless you. He sees everything we do and He is so happy when what we do is positive and helpful.

  19. We vacationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia one time and there are two cemeteries there where some are buried from the Titanic. One was in a Jewish cemetery and another for others.

  20. WET & FORGET is a safe product that can be used on old stones in cemeteries. It cleans up old headstones in a few weeks. Much better than chalk, flour, and heaven forbid any chemical like bleach. But at hardware stores, etc, sometimes with other cleaners like pool supplies.

  21. Looking forward to retirement when I will be able to help with our local requests! Find-a-Grave has been very helpful, but still looking for a ggrandfather who went to Hot Springs AR to take the cure for mountain fever. Which cemetery might I look in?

    • Hi Susan! My grandparents moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas in the mid 1960’s. They are both buried in Crestview Memorial Park in Hot Springs Arkansas which is located in Garland County. My g-mother passed away in 1978 & my g-father passed away in 1992.

  22. Perhaps the saddest of all cemeteries I’ve visited is the one from the Willard Asylum in NYS. No one had a name. They were numbers on flat rectangles on the ground. The next saddest was Gettysburg. Virtually the entire town is a graveyard. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t cry, could barely walk without deep grief. Thanks to all the volunteers.

    • My great grandfather, James Franklin Munroe Prater was buried in Bryce Hospital Cemetery in Tuscaloosa Alabama. I’ll never be able to visit his grave! The hospital was very close to University of Alabama and actually part of the grounds. There were no names, just numbers on metal crosses. Students took a large number of them. The city also put a road through the cemetery. My husband and I went p there looking to see if there was anything that could be made out. There’s now 3 different cemeteries separated by the road. One road that went into one was totally chained off and posted so I went in anyway! My grandfather could have been in that one! I took pictures of all the numbered crosses. I noticed something in the edge of the woods! What I saw made me sick! Kind of hidden by weeds and trees were stacks of those numbered crosses! One stack was probably close to 3 feet high! I’m guessing that they’re markers from the graves destroyed when they built that road! You could tell they had been there quite a while. My grandfather was already buried by the time the family was notified of his death. We had no choice as to where he was buried and now we don’t know where is body is!

  23. How amazingly awesome! I work at a cemetery and we see memorials drop all the time. It’s amazing that the pieces were able to be placed back together! Thank you for all your hard work!

  24. What an awesome article. Thanks to these wonderful volunteers who spend countless hours researching our families.

  25. Think of all of the people who died before documentation. My wife has relatives buried in a family cemetery on a hillside with only a rock for a headstone. Maybe that is where the term “headstone” comes from?

  26. Message for Susan who posted at 11:32 a.m. on May 11, 2022. Contact the Melting Pot Genealogical Society in Hot Springs. Their email is at the bottom of this page. They are knowledgeable about all the cemeteries in that area.

  27. What do you do when you happen upon 2 large headstones, at the edge of a park, without inscriptions? We’re not able to get through the electrified fence to see if there is anything on the bottom. The tall standing stone has nothing on it.

    • Is this a public park? If so then I would start by asking one of the rangers. If it is private, can you find who owns it on the internet and contact them for permission?

      Maybe it could just be a memorial? Talking to someone who works there might be the easiest way to find anything out if it is behind an electric fence. After all, the fence still working means that someone cares about it, so there must be people who know.

      Other tricks might be to go when it is just starting to go dark, and shine a light on it at lots of different angles. The shadows it produces can really help a rough surface reveal any carving there.

      Another trick you could use is whenever the light seems to be showing something “odd”, take a picture of it with a digital camera. If you have a PC, then the free program ” IrfanView” can be used to sharpen the image, alter the colors and so many other things like massively zooming in on a small area. All of these can reveal clues to what the words say if there are any.

  28. If anyone need to have a grave site in the ocean /Monmouth county , I would be more than happy to help out ..

  29. That is so wonderful. It would be great if the cemetery could take the stone pieces somewhere for safe keeping.

  30. How do we become a volunteer? I live in Harford County MD and there are so many old cemeteries here!

    • My relatives john and benjamin sharp are from there. Benjamin made it to gibson co, indiana.

  31. I am in late stage COPD with emphysema, 69 years of age. I was one of 8 children, all of whom (but one) were adopted out. My twin brother and I were adopted together. After we got grown, we pretty much went our own ways, but got in touch with each other from time to time. However, in 1994, I lost all touch with him and through the decades since, had spent a lot of time trying to find him through various agencies, to no avail. It was in early 2016 that my youngest daughter came to my house to let me know she had found him, buried in a military cemetery as of May, 1994. Thanks to Find-a-Grave, at least I now know where Bubba is.

  32. My grandfather Ozias Elbert Lawrence is buried in Casa Grande, AZ. His stone had 1884 as his birthdate. We asked that it be changed to the correct date of 1894. The stone was corrected. The submission to Find a Grave is the picture of the mistaken date. I do appreciate that a wonderful man submitted it, but would also appreciate that the one with the correct date would be submitted. Thank you for this wonderful service to us all.

  33. I’d like to ask if there is a volunteer working the Mt. Olive cemetery along US 69/287 just north of Kountze, TX?

    Also, when in a cemetery and notice a mistake on a headstone, should we mention that mistake we find? I noticed a headstone of a young man who had died while serving in the military. At the top was a “Maltese Cross” which is reserved for those members of the CSA military who died as the result of combat. I found that this young man had NOT died in combat but had gotten sick at his barracks and sent home to recuperate from his illness. He died while on sick leave. I’ve attempted, several times, to contact someone from SCV but nobody… even from the main headquarters… has bothered to respond.

  34. Re broken headstones; here in the UK, any churches now non-consecrated, usually have their stones either moved to the side of the graveyard/cemetery (if we are lucky enough to find them) or broken up and buried. My g.grandmother, a sister of hers and her father, “lost” theirs when the local council took over. The same happened to a 2xg.grandfather and is wife, in another graveyard controlled by the same council. I’ve been lucky with plot numbers and plans, so at least I know where they are all buried.

    • Where I lived, there were lots of places where paths were made of intact headstones, often around the church itself. Sometimes they would be paths between existing graves. Am I the only one that hates this practice, because you cannot help but see their names as you walk. I would be mentally apologising to everyone as I had to step on their headstones. Not only that, but some of them were relatively recent, in very good condition and dates within the last 50 years on them. I don’t know why, but I would not like to think of that happening to my grave.

  35. Find a grave team, I have a question if I have information from My Heritage that a relative was in a church cemetery, but find a grave blank church says no result. Does that mean no one has taken a picture and registered the grave, or information is wrong? Wanda

  36. I’ve seen that using aluminum foil to make a rubbing of the inscription can make those subtle/hard to read carvings easier to decipher.

  37. Does anyone know of a family named Clipp or Clip buried in western MD, or nearby VA , or WVa? I am 80 yrs old and I’ve spent years trying to locate a beloved uncle named Clegget/Claggett (?) Albertus Clipp/ Clip. [ all spelling may be off a little] He was a loving light in my child hood. I recall his parents lived nextdoor to, and cared for, a tiny one room? school house and yard in a small town (in western MD?) He was born prior to 1900 and was said to have lived to his 90s. I lost touch when I followed my military spouse around the country.
    Thank you and blessings on all of you for the work you do.

  38. I am 75 and years ago loved to explore cemeteries and read the headstones. They tell a story, sometimes sad, of families and their adventures. I now live in Medina NY and am anxious to visit a cemetery I go by often nearby. I don’t know anyone around here, but it should be interesting.

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