Anyone researching their family will know that tracing burials can be difficult but you may be lucky enough to find a monumental inscription. Gravestone inscriptions frequently supply useful background information for family historians. For example, they may supply links between one family and another when nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers and grandchildren share the same memorial. They may give a whole life story including places of birth, who married whom, the names of children, and finally the place of death and burial. If you are really lucky they may even tell you the cause of death.
In 1907 Arthur Weight Matthews of Luton began to record gravestone inscriptions and by 1916, when he left the County, he had filled 17 notebooks with transcripts.
Several gravestones tell sad but intriguing stories: the young lady who died "after a few hours of illness on her wedding morn"; the gentleman "killed by a stick of timber falling out of his own carriage"; not to mention the skilled painter, James Pickard of Leicestershire, who was killed when he fell from the dome of Lord Bute's House at Luton Park in 1787. However, drowningis the most common cause of death recorded in the Weight Matthews volumes. For example, William Prior of Bedford St Mary "left this life when bathing on Sunday the 14th August 1791. Is it just my imagination, or does the unusual mention of the day suggest a reproach about William's Sabbath day activities? If so, this makes the fate which befell brother and sister Thomas and Harriett Inskip and their friend Mrs Anderson seem even more unfortunate – they drowned in the river Ouse at Oakley in 1843 when returning from Stevington Church.
Specific diseases are rarely mentioned, but influenza, cholera, smallpox and typhoid all appear, and the weather was responsible for two deaths, one from lightning, the other from sunstroke. Several soldiers are reported as dying in South Africa at the time of the Boer war and , from an earlier generation, James Inkersole of Marston Moretaine lost an arm at Waterloo which caused his death on 17th August 1827! Railway and carriage accidents and, slightly more surprising in land-locked Bedfordshire, shipwrecks are mentioned. Cases of death in childbirth are as you would expect, comparatively common. The gravestone of Patience Johnson in St Paul's Churchyard, Bedford, stated: "Here lies interred the body of Patience ye wife of Shadrach Johnson, by her he had 12 sons and 12 daughters, She died in Childbed ye 6th Day of June Anno 1717 Aged 38 years". After his wife's death, Shadrach, innkeeper of the WHeatsheaf Inn, fathered eightmore children by his maidservant, Sarah Boston, whom he finally married in Goldington in 1724. She died on 25 May 1736, Shadrach was buried 12 Nov 1741.
Monumental Inscriptions can be a very useful source for the genealogist, often including details of ages, family members and other biographical details. Several different groups have noted the inscriptions on gravestones in churchyards throughout the county and these are available in our searchroom, or we can copy or transcribe entries for you for our usual research fee if you cannot visit the office, see Our Enquiry and Research ServiceAWM
Arthur Weight Matthews, produced 1907-1916, indexed (photocopies of the volumes held by the Society of Genealogists), available in the searchroom at ref: CRT 120/15/15/1-17.LHC
LH Chambers, produced 1917 - 1923, indexed, available in the searchroom at ref: CRT 120/15/1-14.FHS
Family History Society; most are indexed, available in the searchroom pamphlet boxes under ref: 130/---.Pl
Women's Institute and County Planning; arranged alphabetically by surname and then in approximate date order, they are held as bound copies on the searchroom selves ref: 130/---.BMS
Bedford Modern School; alphabetical lists by surname contain the relevant information but are not full transcripts.OC
Other contributors; styles vary see notes below.