Learning about Geography and History
from your local Cemetery
Powell Junior High School
Adapted from the work of
Marshall Levi, Henry DeVona,
Judy R. Morgan
Cemeteries are a unique resource for studying the people of an area. This lesson actively involves students in the gathering of information and then in evaluating the information about their community.
Connection To Curriculum:
Social Studies, Math, English
SS3-P2 Analyze natural and human characteristics of places in the world studied to define regions, their relationships, and their pattern of change, with emphasis on
PO 2 applying the concept of region to organize the study of a geographic issue using multiple criteria
SS3-P3 Analyze how economic, political, cultural, and social processes interact to shape characteristics of human populations, interdependence, cooperation and conflict, with an emphasis on
PO 5 the spread of cultural traits that lead to cultural convergence and divergence, including the widespread use of English and the role of the global media
National Geography Standards: 1,4,6,9,10,12,17,18
Grade Level 5th through 12th
Time: 4 to 6 Hours
Map of local cemetery clipboards
Worksheets (attached) pencils
books on local history white construction paper
markers or colored pencils scissors
large sheets of smooth newsprint
research local history using maps and books.
use the local cemetery to gather information.
use the skills of communication and mathematics
work in cooperative groups to answer questions.
learn for whom local place names are dedicated
learn what groups of people have settled the locale
learn what symbols and epitaphs mean on graves
create a timeline of "tombstones" for deceased residents
Several Weeks in Advance:
Call local cemetery and tell them your plans, including your likely field trip date. Visit the cemetery on your own. Look for names that can be researched easily with school resources. Look for names that have resulted in local place names. Get a brochure of the cemetery, if available, and a map.
Request permission from principal to take
field trip, order buses, and secure parent permission and chaperons.
Day before Trip (one or more periods):
Introduce the students to the activity by explaining how your locale was first settled.
Share some anecdotes from your personal experiences in visiting cemeteries.
Share some slides of cemeteries or local historical sites.
Assign students famous residents (now deceased) who can be researched and found in the local cemetery. Make sure that plenty of local history books are available.
Prepare students for cemetery trip. Remind students of respect for funerals and grave sites. Remind students to dress comfortably and to bring water and a pencil.
Check back with the cemetery to see if funerals are scheduled in an area where students may be asked to visit.
Gather materials to be used such as clipboards, etc.
Cemetery Trip (1 1/2 hours):
Upon arriving at cemetery, hand out worksheets and assign students to complete certain sections (Calculating Lifespans, Lifespans of Children, Epitaphs, Size and Shapes, Symbols, Demographics of the Cemetery, Tombstone Tour). There is too much here for one group to do unless this is a much longer field study.
In addition, remind your students to find the grave of the deceased resident they are researching. They must find the grave and then record the information from the tombstone on a piece of paper. Also remind them to read everything on the worksheet before beginning work.
Optional: When students have finished
the assigned tasks and still have more time, have them complete another
section of the worksheet or allow them to do a charcoal rubbing of a tombstone
that interests them.
Days After the Trip (two or more periods):
Have students who received the same worksheet assignments work together. The group will make a report to the class on their findings on the following day.
Each student must also compose a paragraph or more on the deceased citizen that he/she researched. Using the large sized white construction paper, he/she must also create a tombstone with birth?death dates and an epitaph that reflects something that was learned about the person.
Students will then create a tombstone timeline
(based on birth dates) that will go around the room. Each student will
add his or her tombstone in order and explain what this person did to be
Students can use local phone books and city maps to search for place names or company names that may be based on the deceased citizens.
Students can select a tombstone and compose a fictitious biography for the person.
This can be an introduction to a more in-depth study of your community.
Students can relate episodes of oral history
about their families to the class.
Look at the Mesa Cemetery:
Walking Tour Guide
Your deceased resident to
find is ____________________________________.
1. Find his/her grave and
record what the tombstone states.
2. Now, using the walking
tour pamphlet and the tombstone inscription, write a paragraph about this
3. On the back of this paper,
draw a tombstone for him/her. Create an epitaph that would fit his/her
life. Be original. Be creative. This tombstone will be part of our community
Geography of the Cemetery: Calculating Lifespans
1. Record the birth and death dates for 10 men and 10 women (over the age of 18 years).
2. Calculate the number of years that this person lived.
3. Average the life spans.
What is the average age for Men?________
What is the average age for Women?_____
Which group lived longer?________________
Do you think this is true today?___________
List the causes of death
Are there any common causes
of death in this group of people?
Geography of the Cemetery: Lifespans of Children
Find the graves of 10 children
(under the age of 18 years). Record their birth and death dates and ages
at death. Average their lifespans.
What is the average age for children? _________ Do you think this is true today?____________
List the causes of death
Are there any common causes
of death in children?
What is the saddest epitaph
you found on a child's tombstone?
What symbols do you find
on children's tombstones?
How are cemeteries public
places? How are cemeteries private places.
Geography of the Cemetery: Epitaphs
(Sayings on a tombstone in memory of the deceased)
Which epitaph was the most
Which epitaph was the saddest?
Which epitaph made no sense
Which epitaph seemed to tell
something personal about the person?
What clues were given to the occupations of men and women. Do not use Mother or Father.
Geography of the Cemetery: Size and Shapes
What is the most unusual
shape of tombstone? __________________________ Draw it in the space below.
Look at 10 tombstones for
women. How many give the woman's maiden name?
What color of stone seems
to make up the most tombstones?
Explain how new tombstones
differ from old ones in size and shape?
Does the size of the tombstone
tell something about social class?
Geography of the Cemetery: Symbols
What symbols do you find
as you view the tombstones?
Which symbols do you find
that indicate a religious background?
Which religious symbol is the most common?
Geography of the Cemetery: Demographics
Record the last names for
10 different families and guess at their original nationalities. (Use the
resource sheet attached for help on determining nationalities.)
Choose one and mark it with an X.
_________One nationality seems to have the most representation.
___________There is no real pattern to the nationalities
Why is this true?
Which family group seems
to have the largest plot?
What family names do you
notice that are famous names in this area and might be the names of streets,
buildings, towns, etc.?
Do you have any family or
friends buried in this cemetery? If you do, describe your feelings when
you visit these graves.
Geography of the Cemetery: Common Symbols in Cemeteries
angel--represents God's messenger, a Christian symbol
clasped hands--symbolize marriage
clover--represents the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost)
cross--symbol of Christianity
crown--represents royalty, eternal life and honor
dove--represents Holy Spirit
grapes and grape leaves--symbolize the blood of Christ
ivy--symbolizes fidelity and immortality
lamb--represents God as the Good Shepherd or innocence
lily--symbolizes purity, innocence, beauty, marriage and Christ's resurrection
mansion or castle--from the Bible, "my Father's House has many mansions"
oak leaves/acorns--symbolize courage, strength, eternity, and virtue
open book--symbolizes the Bible
pointing fingers--represent the hand of God
rose--symbolizes love, beauty and perfection or, sometimes, Christ
roses on a cross--symbolize the death of Christ
sunburst--symbolizes the dawn of life
wheat--represents the body of Christ
Approximately 3000 B.C. dithemic (two element) names began.
Alfred = aelf (elf) + raed (counsel)
Edith = aed (rich) + guth (war)
There were also short names (one element).
After the Norman conquest of Britain, peasants still retained one
element names. The nobility
adopted Norman names.
Biblical names came about 1200 A.D.. By the Reformation, 84% of
the names in Christianized
places were Biblical.
The Mayflower era brought names of virtue: Hope, Charity,
European last names (surnames) came from:
1. Locality: Mills (near the mill) Wood (in the woods)
2. Relationship: Ericsson (son of Eric) Hopkins (kin of Hop)
3. Occupation: Taylor (tailor) Miller (works at a mill)
4. Description: Beard (facial hair) Wilde (unruly) Stout (heavy)
5. Social Standing: Knight Pope Queen King
Presently, the largest ethnic
group in America is German.
It was only in 1920 that Persians (Iranians) had to have a last name.
They were forced to choose
one at this time.