Thursday, 19 November 2009

THE CHURCHYARDS HANDBOOK by Peter Burman and Henry Stapleton

THE CHURCHYARDS HANDBOOK by Peter Burman and Henry Stapleton
Published by Church House Publishing. pp199

The Churchyards Handbook is a guide to the history and significance of churchyards, theur care improvement and maintenance. It is updated every so often, the most recent 4th Edition being c2002. The copy I have is the 3rd Edition released in 1988. All are available very reasonably on Amazon.

At first glance it might seem to be pushing the limits of what could be considered relevant to Family History to include such a book as in the reviews, but in truth, this is quite a goldmine of useful and relevant information both for Family Historians and also for those concerned about understanding and protecting the places where their ancestors lie buried.

The book includes many beautiful black and white photos from various churchyards, and there is an informative 9 page guide to these photos at the front of the book. This is followed by a guide to understanding churchyards, the differences of terminology for cemeteries, graveyards, etc, and the impacts of various trends and fashions over the years. The explanations of different approaches to commemorating the dead in different centuries and for different social strata is very useful for the family historian, and helps us gain the maximum degree of information from the various headstones, monuments, and plaques that mark our own ancestors; and can tell us something about the social standing of the village or town at different periods in history.

Of course, it isn't just gravestones that adorn many churchyards, and there are explanations about other such features as sundials, lych gates and crosses - all of which can add further understanding of the church's development and standing in the local community, and offer insights into what our ancestors experienced and witnessed as they attended ceremonies there.

There are also many practical aspects within the book also, that might help the family historian keen to preserve or repair ancestral graves, with advice on, for example, repainting lettering, and who to consult for help and permissions required.

The next section is a lengthy guide to various legal considerations surrounding churchyards, their care, and the regulations surrounding burials and monuments etc. There is also an explanation about Closed and Redundant Churchyards and how they are affected. It is probably useful to have the latest edition of the guide if this is something that you are considering studying in detail, but even the older editions still provide a basic understanding of the laws and principles surrounding them, and should be adequate for most concerns.

There are sections about the keeping of records over the years - always a subject of fascination for genealogists - and suggestions for comemorating cremations and, for example, the dead of the Parish who have been buried elsewhere. These are living concerns and are things that the more we think about now the better future genealogists will be able to do their work! There is advice on recording gravestones and their inscriptions before even more or lost to us, and about caring for the plants and wildlife in many churchyards too.

In all then, this book is a very useful addition to any family historian who likes to visit the places where our ancestors worshipped and lie buried. It will help gain the maximum information and understanding from trips to the graveyard, and will enhance the experience considerably. It might also suggest new means of accessing information about lost burials and monuments!

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