How a QR code could give you that family history research breakthrough

Creepy or a lovely sentimental touch? How a QR (quick response) code could help you break through that research brickwall by providing you with extra information at the grave side.

Small black and white squares and a handheld device could be the key to that long-awaited research breakthrough.

QR codeQR codes (‘quick response codes’) are a kind of square barcode that can be scanned by mobile and tablet device cameras and then link you through to a webpage. You may have seen some on bus stop or underground posters, or food packaging, or even on the tags found on the end of a teabag string.

Whilst those examples might not help you discover what happened to your Great Great Aunt Emily after surviving the sinking of the Titanic, or reveal a photo of your mysterious lost Uncle Freddie, QR codes could become a genealogist’s friend in the future.


Companies are finding ways to use these codes to expand on the information that can be obtained from gravestones. I quite like this idea, although several non-genealogist friends I’ve talked about this with, find the idea to be unsettling.

So will it catch on here in the UK? I guess it’s down to the delivery – if a memorial web page had to carry advertising, or was poorly designed, i’m sure that it would be unpopular.

poll carried out by The Guardian newspaper in September 2012, found that 62% of respondents answered ‘No’ to the question ‘Would you have a QR code on your gravestone?’. Is the QR code a fad? Deemed ‘too gimmicky’ and disrespectful to appear on a gravestone?

To explain how a QR code may work on a gravestone, here’s a video from Quiring Monuments – just one of many organisations who offer this service in the USA.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has already started a similar project to bring QR codes in to Botley Cemetery, Oxfordshire, England, which they hope to complete in time for the centenary of the beginning of the First World War in 2014.

Heritage and Education

In May 2012, Monmouth in Wales, became the world’s first ‘Wikipedia town’, with buildings receiving QR codes that would lead tourists to find out more about the history when scanned, under the moniker of ‘Monmouthpedia’.

Gibraltar and Brazil followed suit with similar ideas.

QR codes are generally free to create. I created the code at the top of this article at

Have you ever seen,or used a QR code on a headstone? Are headstone QR codes a creepy or a lovely sentimental touch? Would love to know what you think.

Author: Andrew Martin

Andrew Martin is a British author, family historian, tech nerd, AFOL, and host of The Family Histories Podcast.

6 thoughts on “How a QR code could give you that family history research breakthrough”

  1. I’ve never used a QR code on a headstone, but I have used them regularly on other items and find them useful. I can’t help but feel they will soon become outdated and be replaced with something better in the future though. Headstones soon become eroded or have lichen grow over them which could damage the code and make it unreadable and even more easily unscannable. Maybe phones/mobile devices of the future could have some sort device in them that could scan/read an embedded chip set within the stone. Kind of like a dog being microchipped! That way the information is protected from the weather etc.


    1. Hi Valmay,

      I really like your idea of embedding the chip – and therefore avoiding what is probably the issue – the visual aspect of a ‘gimmicky’ QR code on a memorial of a beloved relative.

      I think QR codes may still be in their fad stage, but i think that they are beginning to find their place/use as marketers measure their usage and realise how and why users would want to use them. I really like how Monmouth, Rio de Janeiro and Gibraltar have found uses for them as tourist guides. I’d be interested to know if English Heritage do/would ever use QR codes to deliver information as I’ve often found the remains of their information boards that have been vandalised – leaving me wondering what it is that i’m standing in front of.

      Thanks for the comment,


  2. A few years ago, there was a move afoot in the states to imbed a microchip reader similar to the QR code that could be scanned and tell more about the person buried under the stone. I liked the idea then and still do, The more modern technology of the QR code seems like a workable solution. I always wonder about the life between those two dates on the stone and would love this to be readily available. may even convince me to loose my Tracphone for a new model!


  3. I really like the idea, but I have always been interested in gravestones and what they can reveal. I can see how it might not appeal to some. It would be such a useful tool for family historians and my first thought is that it could start out as a service that you had to subscribe to: that way, usage could be monitored and families could be reassured that the information was genuinely going to be used for research…


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