Tombstone Tuesday – The Harrison family grave

Today’s TOMBSTONE TUESDAY post returns to Little Downham and finds a delightful example of 19th century headstone for the Harrison family.

It was wonderfully sunny on Sunday, so I went for a short drive to Little Downham – a village synonymous with my paternal ancestry – to re-tread my steps from years ago, and photograph the gravestones that match my ancestral surnames.

I always find it interesting to see how the headstones have changed in the preceding years too, some look much the same, other’s have become more lichen and mossed over.

William, Mary and Sarah Harrison headstone
The 19th century headstone commemorating William and Mary Harrison, and their daughter Sarah stands in Little Downham parish churchyard, and is almost 200 years old.

This stone, which I don’t remember seeing before (perhaps I was yet to uncover my Harrison roots), stands on the West side of St Leonard’s church, against the perimeter wall. Whether this is it’s original place of standing, or whether it’s been moved, is a mystery, but having noticed that a lot of stones are around the edges, then I’d suspect this to be the case.

It’s a delight in colour, typography, and of course design. I just wish that the long piece of prose at the bottom of the stone had survived. The legible part reads:

IN MEMORY OF William Harrison who died Nov 8th 1819 Aged 73 years.

Also of Mary his wife who died Nov 3rd 1836 Aged 69 years.

Also of Sarah their daughter who died April 22nd 1828 Aged 24 years.

And, actually, as I write this blog article, a strange shape has caught my eye on the top left of the photo – is that a horseshoe resting on the top of the left corner of the stone, or a metal brace to keep this stone standing up? It was a fair few inches away from the wall… I’ll have to return and check!

As for the occupants of this gravestone, William Harrison was born circa 1746 to William Harrison and his wife Anne Leaford. He was baptised on 27th July 1746 at Little Downham. He married Mary (surname not discovered), and the couple had at least five children, with Sarah seemingly being the youngest born around 1802. She was baptised on 25th September 1803. She died aged 24 years, on 22nd April 1828, and was buried with her father (who had died in November 1819) 3 days later. Her mother joined them in November 1836.

At the moment, these Harrison family members seem to be eluding my own William Harrison branch, who seem to alternate between this family group in the Little Downham registers. It is pretty certain that these were ultimately the same family.

Research continues…. and i think i need to get my timeline/whiteboard out again to solve this puzzle.



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.

How To: Have your ancestor’s headstone cleaned and stood back up (Part One)

Article detailing the first two steps in exploring how to get my great great grandparents’ headstone cleaned and re-stood in a UK churchyard.

If whilst doing the graveyard shift of your family history research, you find one of your ancestor’s headstones in a less-than-favourable condition, what can you do about it?

This article might help you if you’re in the UK and thinking of having a gravestone cleaned up, repaired, or re-stood up.

My Great Great Grandparents’ headstone toppled over at some point in 2011 or early 2012. It had always seemed sturdy, so this came as a surprise. I wonder whether it might have been helped on its way down? I’ll never know.

John and Elizabeth Dewey gravestone laying down in 2012
John and Elizabeth’s gravestone in 2012 – may have fallen over as long ago as 2011.

When the headstone fell backwards, it landed partly on the kerb stones of the grave behind it, but fortunately it appears that neither grave sustained any damage.

During the 00s, the church had a tidy up of their churchyard, and this included removing the kerb stones from the grave in order to help them mow the grass (don’t think they asked!). This would have probably have contributed to the gravestone’s instability, as it was never designed to stand on its own. Also, the grave stands in Cambridgeshire, and therefore with the heavy clay soil, it is prone to movement.

John Freeman Dewey and Eliabeth (née Boulter) grave in 1990s
The grave of John and Elizabeth, complete with some kerbstones, in about 1996.

Step One: The Church

My first step was to email the church to find out how to go about having it re-stood and possibly cleaned. I received a friendly and helpful email back from the Canon to say that the church is not involved in that process but that I should contact a stonemason directly as they would then do the necessaries.

Understandably the Cannon asked that, if I did go through with some work and the stone needed to be removed (perhaps for cleaning), that it would be best to keep her and/or the churchwarden in the know, so that its removal doesn’t suddenly trigger a search for a missing headstone.

So, next step is the stonemason for an idea on costs and feasibility of cleaning it.

It’s worth bearing in mind that some lichen in the UK are protected by law, so I’m hoping that this will not be an issue here – and that I can bring this headstone back up to how it would have looked in 1943 after John Dewey’s burial.

My reasoning for contacting the church first was down to a couple of conversations i’ve heard over the years about being charged by the church for setting a stone in place. No fee has been mentioned – perhaps an indication that the Cannon would be pleased to see a tidier graveyard.

Step Two: Contacting the Stonemasons

After Googling for stonemasons in the appropriate county, I emailed 3 of them to ask for rough ideas of prices for both the re-standing and cleaning parts, and included a link to the photo of the grave laying down.

Essentially I have a few questions about the whole process:

  • Cost for re-standing
  • Cost for cleaning
  • Insurance – what happens if the stone breaks whilst in their care?
  • Marker – does a grave get a marker to a) mark the position of the grave and b) alert any visitors to the grave as to where/why the stone isn’t there?

Admittedly I haven’t asked the last two questions yet, but as I don’t have a massive budget, I want to know that I have the first two options covered first.

… to be continued….

Tombstone Tuesday – William Heylock of Abbotsley

Tombstone Tuesday – A weekly blogging meme. This week it’s an ornately carved tomb of William Heylock in the churchyard of Abbotsley in Huntingdonshire, England.

Ornate carvings on a tomb in Abbotsley
William Heylock's grave at Abbotsley has ornate carvings.

Spotted this tomb with ornate carvings on it at the weekend in Abbotsley, Cambridgeshire (or Huntingdonshire as it was when the person was buried). The tomb belongs to William Heylock, the son-in-law of the then vicar James Aspinall at the time of William’s burial in 1688.

William’s tomb is part of a memorial to his generosity – he had given £5 per year (remember, this was written in 1688. £5 in 1688 had the same spending worth as £437 in 2005) to the poor people of the parish each year, and £1 to the vicar each year.

Ornate carvings on a tomb in Abbotsley
Another carving design on William Heylock's tomb

He also gets a mention inside the church. Notes suggest that his family held land in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire – which probably accounts for his wealth.

The Mystery of Elizabeth Yarrow’s Gravestone

Elizabeth Yarrow’s death spans two years. Her age at death spans 8 years. Two churches registers, and a gravestone all give conflicting and some corresponding information. What’s the real answer?

I have a mystery to solve and hopefully the death certificate of an Elizabeth Yarrow, whose death is recorded in the June quarter of 1838 in St Pancras, will unravel it.

This gravestone stands in Stretham churchyard, Cambridgeshire, amongst many other Yarrow gravestones. There is something engraved near the foot of the stone but I can’t make it out now, and perhaps didn’t spot it at the time.

However, this stone appears to have some errors.

The Stretham burials transcript gives William Yarrow as being 71, and Elizabeth Yarrow (née Wright) as having been buried in 1837.

The Little Thetford burials transcript (Little Thetford being a hamlet of Stretham and it’s common for inhabitants to be buried at Stretham), gives a different story: “YARROW Elizabeth otp 50 wife of William farmer, died in London was carried home and buried at Stretham” (Nov 23 1837).

This gives two positive mentions of 1837, rather than the stone’s 1839. The Stretham transcript gives the right age for her, but not for him.

There’s no mention of William in the Little Thetford transcript.

Looking at FreeBMD, there’s only an Elizabeth Yarrow death (so far) available, and that’s the one registered in the June Quarter of 1838 at St. Pancras!

The GRO certificate is ordered… so lets see what it uncovers.

What do you think happened? Here’s a couple of my ideas…

  1. Maybe the stone was erected many years after William and Elizabeth deaths, and so family couldn’t quite remember?
  2. Elizabeth’s death was registered in the June 1838, because certification was new in late 1837 – perhaps they were resisting it (like some), or simply didn’t know that certificates had to be issued or how to go about it?