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Early Gravestone Practices

Headstones and Footstones at Old Parish

A headstone is placed at the head of the grave to identify the person who is buried there. It usually states a person’s name, their date of birth and death; occasionally an epigraph of some sort – a prayer or verse.



In the 18th Century, graves also often had a footstone. A footstone is a smaller marker used to mark the length of the grave from the head to the feet. (Think of it like a bed’s headboard and footboard.) Usually, the footstone will be engraved only with a person’s initials, but occasionally it will contain additional information.


Apart from serving to demarcate the grave from head to foot, the head and footstones also helped to prevent people from walking across the grave, as this was considered disrespectful and bad luck.



Additionally, having both a headstone and a footstone helped to avoid accidental excavation in an overcrowded graveyard. This tradition ceased during the 19th Century.




Since its inception in 1741, Old Parish Cemetery has many graves that are marked by both headstones and footstones. Over the course of centuries, the smaller footstones were easily toppled or vandalized. The Old Parish Preservation Volunteers have uncovered several footstones that had fallen or had been knocked over and covered with grass. Several were transported and stored at Highland Cemetery where they are being identified and reset in their proper place at Old Parish.


Rev. Thomas Balch foot stone recovered and reset by OPPV

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