Two gravestones, one body

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Finding two gravestones for the same person – particularly a widowed person who marries again, or perhaps moves further west – is something not uncommon in genealogical research. A gravestone may be inscribed with both parties’ names with the death date of the living party left empty for when their time comes. However, even when that year is filled in, don’t necessarily think both people are under the same earth.

Years ago I took a trip to Allegany County in western New York where my great-grandmother was born. I found the gravestone of her father’s parents James Taggart Severance (1824–1913) and his wife Marion Botsford (1836–1893) at Riverside Cemetery in Belfast, New York. However years later I found that James also had a headstone at Burrton Cemetery in Burrton, Kansas.

This latter stone was near that of his son, my great-great-grandfather Willard Lorenzo Severance (1862–1947), and appropriately labeled “father.” I knew that James joined his son in Kansas, as all of James’s adult children and their families had moved there in the 1880s, and the father joined them after his wife died in 1893. However I was not certain which stone actually had James’s body underneath. His death certificate states he was buried in Burrton, so the New York cemetery simply filled in his year of death on his wife’s gravestone.



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Another gravestone concerns three unmarried first cousins of my grandfather, all at Woodstock Cemetery in Woodstock, Connecticut. Alfred Thurston Child, Jr. (1904–1996), Eunice Adelia Child (1906–1994), and Louise Boynton Child (1915–1999), never lived in Woodstock, which was where their father was born and raised. Their parents had moved to Colorado where the elder two children were born, and then later Stamford, Connecticut, where Louise was born; the children spent most of their years in New Jersey, where Eunice died, while Alfred and Louise died in Florida and New York respectively. Their parents are buried near this stone, and I believe the siblings set this stone up for themselves, but they were never buried there – I’m not even sure where they are buried!

Also, some people may place their name beside their first spouse but get married again, remaining “alive” on their first grave and then buried beside their second spouse. I’ve seen examples of parents having all of their children named on their stone, with their birth and death dates, despite several children actually being buried elsewhere. Others may have a “memorial” stone in one cemetery and be buried in another. Still others, who might be cremated, may have their ashes deposited in two cemeteries. My colleague David Allen Lambert plans to have his ashes buried locally in Massachusetts as well as in Nova Scotia, beside a memorial gravestone he erected for his great-grandparents.

I believe the siblings set this stone up for themselves, but they were never buried there – I’m not even sure where they are buried!

Another example of a twentieth-century gravestone I read about occurred in two cemeteries in nearby towns in Michigan. The deceased was relatively young, unmarried, and had divorced parents. While his obituary indicated burial in one cemetery, it’s likely his other parent also erected a gravestone at a cemetery with their own familial or personal connection.

There is always a reason someone has two gravestones, and that often has genealogical implications with later marriages, later residences, or competing family connections.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

21 thoughts on “Two gravestones, one body

  1. I’ve run into this situation with 2 gravestones, even going to the trouble of letting the Find-A-Grave managers know of the other, so they could cross reference them.
    I recently tried to find the graves of 2 of my father’s brothers, in Maryland and Nevada. I was able to get the Maryland death certificate, which showed cremation. I called the crematorium, but they had no record of what happened to the ashes. Presumably they were given to his family. Perhaps they’re sitting on a family member’s mantle. The Nevada uncle was a dead end (no pun intended) as state law prohibits practically everyone from getting a death certificate copy. (Certainly not a nephew!) As a genealogist for over 50 years, I’d love to find where my 2 uncles ended up.

    1. My mother has 2 headstones, one with each of her 2 husbands.
      Strangely, an ancestor of mine has a headstone with his and his sister’s name.
      In England, I once saw a headstone of a man, who listed all three of his wives

  2. I see similar examples of the same in my own Kansas kin. It will require some more “digging” on my part to see where grandma Mary Morris Neff (1840-1922) went. Her Butler County, KS stone is inscribed just as you have said above – but she is not there. I think she is buried in Solano County, California, but I may never know why or for certain. – Chris, thanks for the clues as to where and how to look for these dueling plots.

    On a side note, my 3rd great grandfather Erastus Lee (1807-1889) purchased his plot at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Wales Township, St. Clair County Michigan alongside several of his children. The Port Huron Daily Times published 18 Sept 1889 states that he was “buried there at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery last Sunday…” . Yet if he us there he’s in hiding as and the sexton has no record of him ever being interred in the plot they have him recorded purchasing. They say nobody is buried in the plot. I assume that means he could still be “in there” and that the newspaper record may in this instance trump those of the cemetery’s.
    – Tricky undercover grandpa?

    Sounds like my kin that’s for sure!

    1. I have wondered if it was common to have a memorial stone placed in a local cemetery in remembrance of a (US Civil War) casualty. In my search for my wife’s paternal great great uncles I eventually found one great great uncle who had a memorial headstone in Oxford County, ME. I was initially content to accept this as his actual burial. I later found a letter indication he had a rough burial in a farmers field having been left behind when his regiment was en-route between battle fields. His actual remains remains where exhumed. then reburied in the National Cemetery at Antietam National Cemetery, MD.

      1. I have a similar situation, my great grandfather remains were buried in New Orleans in 1864, but I was surprised to later find a listing that the army provided a grave stone for him in Rhode Island. I’m glad this article gave me some context to know that memorial stones weren’t unheard of.

  3. My great uncle’s first wife died 9 months after their wedding. He was Protestant. She was Catholic. Her family wanted her buried in their family plot but were denied by the Catholic Church. Her husband buried her across the street in the town cemetery and planned to be buried with her. Many years later he married again. His second wife refused to let him speak of her ever again. He was buried in his grandfather’s lot along with his second wife, a stillborn daughter, his son and daughter-in-law. His first wife’s family added her name and details to their family large tombstone. I notified Find A Grave that she was not buried there and gave them the above information along with the lot number and section. They were going to try to cross reference the two graves. It was only by pure luck that I found the duplication. Her grave in the town cemetery was not listed in Find A Grave. Her sisters had tried for years to have her body removed to the family lot. The Church never gave permission. Broke my heart when I finally knew the whole story. My great uncle loved his first wife until the day he died according to his sister, my grandmother.

  4. We had a man buried, in Nashville Cemetery, in Vaughan, Ontario, with his wifes name and birthdate and the death date left blank….she was buried with her second husband in Innisfil, Ontario. But they are linked again with www(dot)findagrave(dot)com…

  5. Back in 1984 when a great aunt passed, I thought nothing of the fact she was buried near her only (and pre-deceased) son and his wife. She was divorced from the son’s father and her second husband had passed 10 years previous and presumably was buried next to his first wife who had died. Fast forward 20+ years and I am putting online memorials on Find a Grave and I discover someone has documented my great aunt’s grave in another cemetery, next to the second husband. Sure enough, there is a name plate on the marker, although no death year. Since I was at the graveside funeral in 1984 I know she is not there. I guess it never occurred to anyone in the family and I suppose she never mentioned it, but I imagine the burial spot next to the second husband was paid for, probably still is…

  6. My wife’s parents died in late 2013 at our home in Oregon within three days of each other. Because I have a home metal shop with a small foundry and a circle of friends that get together weekly to work on projects, my “shop nite” friends ate meals with my in-laws and us for years. My shop nite friends became a part of the family and after the deaths, they and I decided to cast a memorial plate for my wife’s parents. When family members heard about it, two sides of the family wanted a plaque. In the summer of 2014, a memorial service was held on private land in the Colorado mountains, where an aluminum plaque commemorating their lives was placed in a grove of evergreens, next to a tree planted in their memory. A few days later, we held an afternoon of remembrance for them at their favorite lodge in a different area of Colorado. When that was over, J and C’s ashes were spread on the hillside above that lodge in Colorado (with permission) by their children and grandchildren. Days later, we had another memorial service for them in western Kansas, and a bronze plaque was left with relatives to be set in concrete at the foot of my wife’s grandmothers grave. This grave’s headstone shows birth & death dates for both my wife’s grandmother and grandfather. The grandmother is buried there, but the grandfather is buried in Missouri with his second wife. So we created two memorial plaques with two people’s data on each plaque, with no body associated with either plaque, and one of those memorials is near a grave with two names and birth & death dates on the headstone, but only one body. To further confuse the descendants, their death certificates were issued many states away from their memorials. We did post obituaries in all three states, so perhaps the next family historian can piece together their relevant data. Hopefully, he or she inherits my notes as well.

  7. Absolutely true! The mother died in Niagara County, NY and her husband was added to her tombstone with no death date. I was shocked to find that the father moved back East to Rensselaer County, NY to live with his oldest daughter and was buried there. Two other daughters lived in Michigan and are buried in Seattle, WA. It took years to finally reunite my gggrandmother’s family on paper.

    1. so my dad got a dual headstone for my mom when she passed but also put his name on the other half. Long story short he decided to be creamated in another state and spread hes ashed in Nevada. My sister bought the plot from him when he was alive and now wants to know the cheapest way to get his name of the other side.. Can any tell me approxamtely what it would cost to get his name and date and picture off.

  8. My great grandfather’s story is a bit different: no stone, but two graves. He was interred in the Single Graves section of Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie, Illinois, after his death in 1921. When his widow died in 1943, the family had his body exhumed and reinterred beside her remains in the Lawn section. I finally had the graves marked in 2005 after my mother (their granddaughter) passed away.

  9. 3 markers, 2 cemeteries, 1 person
    Ernest married Florence as his 4th wife; she is listed on the family marker (years only) with him and his first 3 wives. I never could find any other information about her as neither party listed any information in the marriage register (I guess at 70+ the clerk decided it was a moot point for either of them); there was no obit & no parents on the death certificate. Several years later I was photographing the same cemetery and another cemetery in town and found 2 more markers for a Florence with the same birth & death years but different last names. What are the odds that there would be 3 women named Florence with the same dates? I researched the husbands. Florence married #1 and is on his marker in the same cemetery as Ernest but the other end of the cemetery (several acres distant). They divorced after 20 years of marriage & she came home. Florence married #2 and they were married for about 20 years. She is on his marker in a different cemetery. Then she married Ernest. It took a call to town hall to find out that she is physically buried with her 2nd husband. Since Florence’s 2nd husband had no children by either marriage, did Ernest place the dates on at least 2 of the markers and her son by her first marriage place the dates on his family’s marker? One of genealogy’s unanswered questions.

  10. While not “one body, two gravestones,” the tombstone of Edward Edwards (1813-1890) who is buried in the Woodland Cemetery, Keene, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, has four bodies buried under it. It Is inscribed on the front with his name, and his two wives, Amanda Bigelow (1813-1860) and Mary (Stone) Edwards, (1830-1885). The backside of the gravestone has the inscripton of Mrs. Elizabeth (Bigelow) Cheeney (1834-1863), “wife of L.G. Cheeney”.

    Edwards was a Spiritualist whose 25 letters written by three trance mediums from his two wives and other relatives may be viewd at the Brattleboro Historical Society. One of the mediums whom I have not been able to identify was named in the letters only as a “Mrs. Cheney.” Is this Mrs. Elizabetnn (Bigelow) Cheeney–a sister, cousin,niece, daughter of Amanda–the same Mrs. Cheney, the trance medium, named in the letters? If I had not walked around to the backside of the gravestone on my first visit to the cemetery, I would still would not be connecting the dots in this study of a Brattleboro Spiritualist of late 19th century.

    Oh yes, the gravestone is inscribed for Edward, “1813-1889.” He actually passed away on 12 February 1890. Under close inspecton of the dates inscribed in the granite, it almost looks like the “9” was struck over to make it a “0.” The decade was still incorrect and no attempt was made to correct that.

  11. Two Gravestones for Loring Loomer

    My 3rd Great Grandfather, Loring Loomer (1792-1877), has two gravestones. One stone is in Rockton Township Cemetery in Winnebago County, Illinois next to the grave of his wife Mary Barney Newcomb Loomer (1791-1875). According to “The History of Rockton, Winnebago County, Illinois 1820-1898” after Mary’s death, Loring went to live with his son, Edwin, in Iowa. When Loring died the following year, he was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Charles City, Floyd County, Iowa.

    It is unclear who placed the marker for Loring in the Rockton Township Cemetery, but it was a good thing, since they generously had his birthplace, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, inscribed on the stone. It’s also interesting that the gravestones for Loring and Mary are similar in design and appear age appropriate for the time period they died, while the stone that marks Loring’s actual grave in Charles City is a flat marker which may have been installed many years after his death.

  12. Previous to reading Christopher’s article, I didn’t think twice about the “Two Gravestones, One Body” situation because my father has this unique setup. My mother and I created it. My father’s parents were buried in Trinity Churchyard, Holderness, NH. However, we were living in California when he, a native of New Hampshire, died in 1997. He was cremated and is buried with his wife (my mother) and her parents in a niche at Forest Lawn, Long Beach, CA. We wanted him remembered in his native state and with his parents so a memorial stone was set on the family plot there in Holderness. Someday I plan to return to my roots and see my own “Two Gravestones, One Body” situation.

  13. My ancestor and three young sons left Co. Monaghan just after his wife died in 1850. Few in that area could afford a grave stone. Though he remarried, he erected a headstone to his late wife Ann n Woburn, Massachusetts, and he is buried there with his name further down the stone.. Sadly, his three sons served and died in the Civil War are buried throughout the South.

  14. I also have a cousin who later added free military markers for veterans in her family. Some of these are in cemeteries different from where they are buried with their “civilian markers.”

    1. My Uncle Rev. Zeno Chandler Tharp let it know to everyone that he wanted to be buried in Wimauma, Florida in Fellowship Cemetery. He even indicated that in his will. His wife, my Aunt Annye May Caruthers Tharp wanted to be buried in Greenville, SC where all of her children lived. My aunt died first so my uncle buried her in Fellowship where he wanted to be buried. Later my uncle was very sick and so his daughters went to Florida and got him and took him to Greenville, where he eventually passed. They buried him in Greenville. Each one was buried where they did not want to be. The children put a double tombstone in both graves. Lol

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