On a recent trip to Whitby I found myself drawn to the graveyard surrounding the church at the top of the hill, near the famous abbey. I always find old gravestones interesting and poignant, and this visit reminded me that when I was doing some family tree research a while back I signed up for a site called billiongraves.com, a worldwide database of headstones and transcriptions. As well as using it for my own researches I decided to take pictures of some local gravestones and upload them just to do my bit, but after my initial flurry of activity, other things got in the way and I stopped doing it.
The Whitby visit rekindled my enthusiasm, and I’ve decided to make it my mission to visit churchyards around my home county and occasionally beyond, photographing gravestones and uploading them. When I’m taking the pictures I don’t always take a lot of notice of what’s on them, but when I get back to my computer and start uploading and adding the details into the system, I start to notice things.
There are obviously a lot more deaths of young and relatively young people than we would expect today. I suppose it shouldn’t be so surprising, and the same point applies – on the older gravestones at least – to many deaths occurred in the winter months. The other day I took around twenty photographs in a picturesque little village churchyard, and when I examined them later one particular one got to me more than the rest (there’s nearly always one!). As you will see from the picture (you might have to enlarge it to see the lower entries) within eight years a whole family apart from the father had been wiped out, with someone dying almost every year after 1852. The mother was only 47 when she died; none of her children lived beyond the age of 22, and only three of the seven got beyond their teens. I can only assume that an infection disease was present in the family. It probably wasn’t an acute, aggressive one like cholera, and the way the deaths are spread over a period of several years makes me think of tuberculosis, which to which most of the Bronte family gradually succumbed to the same disease one by one. (I’ve done some delving, and I think William the father, died in 1880.)