Why record memorial inscriptions?
Make a contribution to the written history of your county.
Over 70 burial sites have still not been surveyed in Norfolk.
It has been estimated that at any given date one third of the inscriptions you can read now will not be readable in 70 years time. Help to save information not always available elsewhere.
Every churchyard has its own character. A record of all the inscriptions found there adds depth to this picture and will certainly give you a sense of achievement.
Your completed survey can be used to study
1) Local history.
2) Family History.
3) Migration and distribution of surnames.
4) Verse, poetry, beliefs.
Work on a project in your own time. Summer when it is not raining is the best time. Individual advice and tuition made available at all times as well as practical assistance.
From our database, listing each verse, saying or quotation so far found, we can probably identify the odd words you cannot decipher.
The precise number of burial sites in Norfolk is not yet known because there
is no single list in existence. There must be approximately 750 of which perhaps
70 have never been recorded at any time in the past. Some of these may be ruin
sites where there are no inscriptions but this fact has to be established by
visiting. Do not be distracted by
attempts to list all the sites which are still outstanding it is sufficient at
present that you have a list of sites to select from.
I suggest that you liaise with Norfolk Family History Society by volunteering to record in a particular part of the county. The ancient Hundreds of Norfolk provide a useful means of dividing up the county into manageable areas and as they are historical areas, unlike deaneries, their borders will remain fixed.
You will not be paid for this activity nor will anyone reimburse your expenses. Your reward will be the knowledge that you have saved information which would otherwise be lost.
First establish whether it is one of the parishes covered by the Mid Norfolk
Family History Society. Their site is at:
The area they cover is listed at: http://www.tsites.co.uk/sites/mnfhs/index.php?page=areas-covered-by-the-society
They are active in recording inscriptions in their area comprising about 100 parishes around East Dereham and you should contact them before attempting any recording in their area.
For the rest of Norfolk see the Norfolk Family History Society at:
This includes a list of sites surveyed at http://www.norfolkfhs.org.uk/indexes,monumental-inscriptions/
or you can contact the MI coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
Those marked “not yet surveyed” and
Those where the survey consists only of a few brasses
We need not consider at present:
Where there is no survey after 1900
Where there is no survey after 1970
Mary Mitchell is the Memorial Inscription coordinator and can be contacted at NFHS email@example.com
Mary has a difficult task because so many people in the past have volunteered to conduct a survey and failed to complete it. Her records are only as good as the information given to her. So at this point it is worth emphasizing that we must keep Mary informed of progress. If you lose interest or cannot continue for some reason at least hand in what you have accomplished and someone else can complete the survey. If the survey is going to take more than one year just let us know that you will continue the following year.
You will also want to establish whether the burial registers for the church in question have been deposited at Norfolk Record Office. Their home page is at http://www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk/nroindex.htm and a summary list of the parishes and their records is at
http://www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk/view/NCC098323 to access the list of parish register
holdings in alphabetical order.
It is often the case that burial registers are deposited up to 1812 but still held by the church from 1813. At this stage you need to be aware of the location of the records because you can transcribe records at Norwich Record Office and compare with your MI recordings at leisure. But if the 1813 register is still held by the church you need to plan for a return visit to compare the records. The 1813 register layout does not provide for the recording of burial of ashes in a satisfactory way and many churches have deposited their 1813 registers and begun to use the more modern registers.
Non conformist records are more difficult to locate but a complete list of those available at the Record Office holdings is at http://www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk/view/NCC098747 However it is far from clear which registers are available in many cases.
It is advisable to contact the church warden before commencing a survey and
the promise of a copy of the completed survey usually produces agreement for you
to go ahead. Ask in good time as they may need to raise the question at the next
PCC meeting before agreeing.
Diocesan House, 109 Dereham Road, Easton, Norwich, NR9 5ES (telephone 01603 881083) maintain a web site
To obtain the names and contact details of persons connected to the church visit the Norwich Diocesan website at http://www.norwich.anglican.org/
Select "Find a church" enter name of parish then select "View people in this church".
Field trips are not practicable December to March. But if we know which sites
we are visiting next year we can begin to transcribe and check those burial
records which are deposited at the Record Office.
Only when no rain is forecast for the whole day is it worth travelling any distance and this is sometimes not known until the evening of the day before.
We must seek the permission of the parish before commencing a survey. Often they will not reply until after their next PCC meeting so permission cannot be relied upon if left to the last minute. I have found that writing to the churchwarden usually produces the earliest response. They sometimes telephone other officials rather than wait for the next formal meeting. If you write to a vicar who is responsible for a group of churches it would not be unknown for a request made in April to be unanswered until September.
Experience suggests that the best time to telephone a vicar and find him/her at home would be 5 pm. There is the advantage that if you are seeking permission to record in all the parishes in the group you may have to deal only with one individual.
But never seek permission and then fail to finish or even begin the survey without explaining why. Some of the most reluctant to give permission are those who have experienced this treatment in the past.
If you have the necessary skills you can draw a plan of the churchyard indicating the position of each gravestone. But there are alternatives which you may find more appropriate. These consist of initially dividing the area of the churchyard into four. Imagine a line running along the east end of the church is extended to the edge of the churchyard. Everything to the east of this line can now be described as being in the east end of the churchyard. Similarly the west end can be identified. And you now have areas to the north and south side of the church which can be identified.
You now need an identifying number for each stone and this can be achieved by identifying rows of gravestones and allocating a two digit number to the row and then numbering the stones sequentially in each row with a further two digit number. In some churchyards you may think that the stones have been moved and aligned in rows to facilitate the mowing of the grass. In fact this is often not the case and they were in rows originally. In other cases they may still appear scattered. It may be necessary to number some rows which contain only perhaps one or two stones. So be flexible.
In a small churchyard where the church is adjacent to one side of course you may have only three areas to consider. In a larger churchyard you may use pathways to divide the whole churchyard into more than four areas
Each inscription then has a four digit number, eg 1013 will then be the thirteenth stone in row ten. Your survey will have to clearly indicate whether the rows are numbered from west to east or vice versa and whether the stones are numbered north to south or vice versa.
The most effective method for a small Norfolk churchyard is usually to number the rows from 01 at the east end. At the east end the rows will run across the whole width of the churchyard as you pass the church they will cover only the south side of the churchyard and once you have passed the west end of the church they will again run across the whole width of the churchyard. Any stones to the north of the church can then be numbered N001, N002 etc or arranged in rows N101, N102 etc then N201, N202 etc so long as there are no more than ten rows here. But again be flexible, it depends upon the size and shape of the churchyard and whether it is conveniently divided up into smaller areas by pathways
Be aware of the need to remove lichen only to the extent that it is necessary
A hat or cap will help to keep the sun out of your eyes and sometimes a
blanket covering you and the stone is very helpful.
Old gardening clothing or the like and footwear are essential
A clip board or adequate substitute.
Biros. (Reference books suggest pencils. Why?)
Plenty of scrap writing paper. It can be windy so have some means of attaching them together.
A water sprayer of the kind purchased at Garden Centres. Preferably of the kind which allows you to alternate between a jet of water and a mist. Look for the French manufacturer “Gardena”. (You can re-use bottles which previously contained products such as window cleaner but the springs are not designed for re-use and they will fail to function adequately after half a dozen refills.)
At least one 2 litre bottle or similar of water to refill the sprayer
A scrubbing brush with natural or plastic bristles. The harder the bristles, the better it will clean away vegetation on stones. But use softer brushes on sandstone and never ever use a wire brush on any stone this will cause damage.
Sometimes water and brush are not sufficient. On more recent modern marble stones it can be useful to rub a handful of grass into the inscription so that it is coloured green. Try this before the alternative of rubbing some soil into the inscription. Others may suggest chalk or shaving cream but these are both expensive and not particularly effective besides which they alter the chemical composition of the stone and affect the lichen growing upon it
Gardening tools secateurs, shears, trowel, spade can be useful.
Some of the plastic scrappers designed to clear frost from car windscreens can be very useful and will remove ivy from headstones but use carefully. They can also be much stronger than garden trowels when used to clear soil from the base of the stone.
A small step ladder may be required to read one or two of the higher inscriptions on the walls inside churches. We have even used binoculars. Unless the inscription is, or can be, cleaned a camera does not give much advantage
Maps and any reference books about the parish/church can be of interest
Drink. Avoid dehydration.
Food. Plan for the fact that you may not be able to wash your hands.
Health and Safety
Consider whether a tetanus injection would be an idea. It is more of a
scratch than an injection as such. It is always a good idea to have this done if
you are a gardener and you will need a repeat from time to time.
Before lying down beneath a gravestone which is leaning forwards check that it is firm. Rabbits can burrow under stones and cause them to fall. Never attempt to lift a gravestone if you are working alone. If it has fallen face down. Just give it a reference number and describe it in your report as “headstone fallen face down”.
Be aware that the entrances to old rabbit burrows may be covered with weeds and result in a sprained ankle.
Sun cream. Insect repellent Aspirin, Bandages. All common sense.
The overall objective must be to reduce the number of times you have to
revisit the churchyard. So record accurately whilst not taking excessive time
over the first draft.
See Appendix 1 and be aware that you will have to type up your notes in this format later.
See Appendix 2 for some abbreviates you can use in your notes and expand when you are typing up your notes. I have not given the meaning here so you can make use of these as you become familiar with them.
What you record here will be checked against other records. The more accurate your record the easier it will be to complete the checks accurately. If you are uncertain of any individual character, word or sentence underline it. This will help later.
It may be worth pointing out here that checking the accuracy of your survey may well take, as long as the original recording. Without this checking process a survey is likely to be only 90% accurate. Consider that at some future date the original inscription may no longer exist and your record of it will be all that remains.
A churchyard is a dangerous place to take a laptop
1) You can at any time turn around and knock it against a gravestone
2) Scrubbing lichen from stones creates an airborne dust and you will find when writing on paper that the paper gives you some idea of the amount of mud which would accumulate on a laptop keyboard.
3) Unless you are working as a pair you will have to put the laptop down for part of the time and it is likely that you will tread upon it eventually.
A Dictaphone may be a possibility, be sure that is an analogue type. The main drawback is that you sometimes have to omit an inscription for some hours until the sun has moved and it is a much simpler matter to fill in gaps in a paper record at a later time.
Have you recorded all inscriptions inside the church? Floors, walls, windows
dedications on organ or lectern etc
Are there any inscriptions on the outside wall of the church?
Are there any headstones inscribed on both East and West surfaces?
Are there any headstones hidden in waste ground around the edges of the churchyard?
If possible, type up your notes the following day, whilst everything is fresh in your mind. This will create a word processor file we will call SUTTON.
Visit the Record Office and make a transcript of the burial registers. This
is best entered to a spreadsheet which we will call SUTTONBR. The columns are
best arranged as follows. If you later wanted to check this and donate it to the
NBI (National Burial Index) it will already be in a suitable format and require
little additional adjustment
FORENAME, SURNAME, DAY, MONTH, YEAR, AGE, NOTES
Information to enter in the notes column will become clear later
NB Be especially careful to record the year correctly as it is difficult to check this as well as all other details later.
When you have finished this print it out take it back to the Record Office and check it once again against the original. As long as you have correctly recorded the year you can easily check all of the other details. Note any amendments in pencil and then amend the computer copy of your spreadsheet.
Your survey will be in the word processor document called SUTTON
Print out the first draft of SUTTON Or if you are using Windows 7 you can now open the Word document and Excel file on screen together) and make an index in a spreadsheet on your computer which we will call SUTTONX. Column headings will be:
MI REF, FORENAME, SURNAME, DIED, YEAR, AGE, BURIED (blank at this stage)
(day and month in the same column so that the column sorts into date order if necessary) (14th Dec entered as 14/12 appears as 14-Dec on screen)
Print out the first draft of SUTTONX. It is always advisable to do this even if you have Windows 7 installed since you need to use any notes manually added to this print to subsequently amend both SUTTONX and SUTTON.
Open the SUTTONBR file on your computer and enter burial date details from this into the last column of your paper copy of SUTTONX. If the register was not deposited at the Record Office you will have to make an appointment to do this at the church
This is where you discover how accurate your recording of inscriptions has been. In most cases there will be a burial date a few days later than the date of death.
Place of burial may be other than place of inscription. In these cases note the place of burial in burial column instead of a date
You will also find:
Figure 5 and 3 wrongly recorded in ages and dates
Information missing from inscription present in burial register
Note all of these amendments and additions on your paper copy of SUTTONX and later use this to amend your computer files: SUTTONX and SUTTON
If the inscription gives a reference to the source of a Biblical quotation
has it been recorded correctly? Check it in your Bible or on a search engine.
If part of an epitaph was not readable you may be able to deduce missing words by running a Google search for the words or phases you did manage to read.
Also look on this site for Verses and here for Texts
You may sometimes have to translate a date given as eg Easter Sunday or a
Saints Day into the day and month for that year.
“A Handbook of Dates for students of English History” by C R Cheney, published by Royal Historical Society is a useful source and so are a number of web sites
Saints Days are also found in “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable”
Dictionaries of Surnames and Christian names can also provide information of use as can Arthur Mee’s “King’s England” Norfolk edition and Pevsner’s “The Buildings of England” which is published in two parts for Norfolk: Norfolk 1 Norwich and North-East, and Norfolk 2 North-West and South
And it is always worthwhile to consult the East Anglia Churches web site at http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/norfolkindex.htm before visiting the church
If you are planning to organise a survey as a team leader try to agree in advance some basic rules for recording data as this will reduce the amount of subsequent editing needed to present the final survey in a standardised format
Only surnames. In a few cases it is not clear which name is the surname without reference to other sources. Typing the surname in capitals removes any ambiguity.
a) Any word meaning God. Saviour, Redeemer, Lord. Him, His
b) Names of places, months, days of the week and saint’s names
c) Fore names
d) The first word of each text, verse or quotation.
Perhaps there is a case for capitalising the initial letter of the first word in each line of a verse but if this practice is adopted then some method would have to be used to indicate the beginning of a separate text or unrelated verse if more than one appears in the same inscription.
When a bracket appears in the inscription whether or not it is a square or rounded bracket.
Anything other than obvious headings or subheadings should be enclosed in
square brackets if it does not appear in the original inscription.
a) Words, facts or figures which cannot be read from the inscription but which have been deduced from other sources
b) The fact that an inscription is broken or unreadable or a description of the type of memorial.
Possibly when 4) b) above applies as opposed to 4) a)
To indicate the end of each line of the inscription and it should always be
followed by a space
What do you record if the inscription itself includes a "/" ? It will have to be entered as \
4. But do not be tempted to use the letters I for inside the church or O for
on the outside wall of the church because these two letters are too easily
confused with numerals 1 and 0
Inside church usually C001 C002 etc. WW1 memorial WW01, WW2 memorial WW02 a memorial for both wars and/or any other war WW00
No. If it is you will use more paper when printing.
You will also probably encounter problems editing if you subsequently have to make changes to the text
You have been recording inscriptions and have used abbreviations for some
standard phrases found on grave stones. What do these abbreviations mean? You
can begin to use these as you become familiar with them.
A R---H E W P---I E L M O---I L M O---I A R O---OTA---OTP---T D B W O--- WD---WDTL---W E I R---WPA---W O---S O---D O etc
[Be careful to distinguish between an abbreviation you have used and an abbreviation which appears in the inscription eg PPP or P.P.P.---RIP or R.I.P.]
Born 1920 died 2006
Born 27 Mar 1912 Died 6 Jun 1984
Born 6 Jun 1915 died 31 Jan 1981
Died 5 Feb 1821 in the 67th year of her age
The burial register says Mary Ann Grummett was buried Ash Wednesday 1853.
Frederic Fox was buried on Ascension Day 1859
What were these dates expressed as day and month?