Interpreting Tombstone Markings

If you are planning to visit a cemetery, particularly an older one, to find your ancestor’s graves, you may encounter unfamiliar words or abbreviations in the inscription.  These may hold important genealogical clues that you will want to follow up on.

Colonial Terms

A couple of unfamiliar terms that I’ve encountered are:

  • A.E. – an abbreviation for “age”
  • Consort of – indicates that a wife has died before her husband, who is named
  • Relict of – not as bad as it sounds, this indicates that a woman died a widow, and names the husband who died before she did.
  • In Nth year – indicates that the person had not yet reached the stated age; “in the 79th year of her age” would mean that the deceased was 78 years old at the time of death.


Saving Graves has a guide to interpreting grave stone abbreviations that lists common acronyms for fraternal organizations and societies of which the deceased was a member.

Languages Other Than English

Carvings and Motifs

The ornamental motifs and carvings on a stone are often symbolic and can provide additional clues. Good resources for interpreting these are How to Interpret Gravestone Motifs and Symbolism on Gravestones. If it’s a veteran’s stone you’re interested in, the list of Permitted Religious Emblems on Government Headstones and Markers may be helpful.