Saturday, February 20, 2016

Gravestones: Should the living be included with the dead?

Arlington National Cemetery, 2014.

Cemeteries are a large part of my Genealogical world.  I spend a great amount of time traipsing through graveyards throughout Virginia and the surrounding states, photographing headstones in an effort to preserve the information recorded on them.  The headstones I digitize are then uploaded on the BillionGraves site where they are transcribed by myself or other BillionGraves volunteers.  The photograph, transcription, and gps location of each gravestone is now available for anyone doing family history research.  Currently I have digitized over 130k graves with BillionGraves.

One of the issues that gives me pause is whether or not to photograph a headstone that includes the name of a living person, even if other individuals listed on the stone are deceased.  The information gleaned from a headstone can be what tears down the proverbial brick wall for a genealogist.  Nonetheless, it feels odd to me at times to photograph a stone that includes the name and birth date of a possible living individual.  So, when an issue regarding a tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery appeared on the news last night, my ears perked up.  I wanted to see what America's most famous cemetery had to say on the matter.  It appears the deciding officials at Arlington are conflicted, as well.

Coast Guard Officer Paul Peak passed away in October 2014.  He and his wife of 70 years had made the decision, as I am sure many spouses do, to be buried together.  The Peak family had the headstone made with their father's name, military information, along with his birth and death dates.  They also included their mother's name to the stone with the intention of filling in her life details after her passing.  Arlington National Cemetery denied the request.  7 On Your Side reported that the reason for denying the request is: "She may remarry."  Mrs. Peak is 95 years of age.  Keep in mind, that there are gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery that have the names and birth dates of living spouses.

I can understand to some extent where Arlington National Cemetery officials are coming from.  My grandmother became a widow back in the 1960s and her husband was buried in Arlington.  When my grandmother passed in 2008, her information was added to the stone when she was interred with her husband.  I can see why waiting would have been prudent then.  But to tell a woman of 95 years that she cannot have her information added at this time because she might remarry is ridiculous, considering there has never been a standard rule of thumb regarding living spouses being added to headstones in Arlington.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think cemeteries should allow the names of living individuals on headstones along with their deceased loved ones?