Tombstone Tuesday: How old is that tombstone?

[NOTE: Due to circumstances beyond my control (ie, an exam in Spanish class this morning!), this week’s Tombstone Tuesday is being published on Wednesday.]

In genealogy, we tend to think of records as something on paper or something digital. Whether it is a book, a microfilm (pictures of paper!), a photograph or a website, we’re fairly comfortable with paper and pixels. But what about stone?

Tombstones are a type of record. Just as we need to evaluate the paper and pixels that we use in our research, we need to evaluate the tombstones. The process of evaluation is remarkably similar.

One of the key questions to ask is: How old is that tombstone? In other words, is it consistent with the date of death? Tombstones are like any other record in that regard; the further away from the event it was created, the more likely there is to be an error.

What is the stone made of?

The stone itself can give a clue as to its age. Different materials were popular at different times.

  • Slate, limestone and sandstone were popular through the mid-19th century
  • Marble was popular during the mid-19th century
  • Zinc or “white bronze” markers were made from 1875 to 1912 (see last week’s Tombstone Tuesday)
  • Gray granite became popular in the late 1800s
  • Colored granite came in vogue in the 1920s and continues to be the most popular material today

With these materials in mind, let’s look at a few tombstones.

Sandstone tombstone, Old Colony Burying Ground, Granville, Ohio
Sandstone tombstone, Old Colony Burying Ground, Granville, Ohio

To the left is a tombstone made of sandstone in the Old Colony Burying Ground in Granville, Ohio.  The inscription reads:


Memory of

John Black

Who died

Sep. [?] 19, 1827

aged [illegible]

Judging from the material of the stone, the font used in the inscription, and the motifs used on the stone, I would say that this stone is consistent with the death date.

It should be noted that just because a stone is consistent with the date of death does not ensure that it was placed there shortly after the death. It might have been several months or even years later. Always keep in mind that the tombstone is just one record of a person’s death.

Let’s take a look at another example:

Charles and Susan McCulloch Scott, Founders Cemetery, Cambridge, Ohio
Charles and Susan McCulloch Scott, Founders Cemetery, Cambridge, Ohio

This tombstone for Charles and Susan McCullogh Scott is in Founders Cemetery, Cambridge, Ohio. Charles’s death date is listed as October 29, 1857; Susan’s is listed as June 15, 1855. However, the stone is polished rose-colored granite. In addition, the font is much more modern than what was in use in the mid-1800s. Based on this, I am confident that this stone was erected not at the time of their deaths, but sometime in the 20th (or even 21st) century.

There is another clue on the stone that points to it not being from 1855 or 1857. Take a look at Susan’s birth information: “Born May 17, 1796, Short Creek, West Virginia.” West Virginia did not become a state until 1863; therefore, it would not be named as such on a tombstone erected in the 1850s.

So what do we do when we find such a tombstone? We don’t discount it out of hand. Instead, we take it as a clue that needs to be followed. For example, you wouldn’t want to record on your ancestor chart that Susan was born in Short Creek, West Virginia and leave it at that. It would be better to do some research in the Short Creek area and see what other records of a Susan McCullough you could find.

Posted: July 9, 2008.

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  • I am excited to see your post :How old is that tombstone?

    I am a descendent of Charles Scott II and Susan McMulloch Scott.
    I have been looking for their tombstone online.
    The dates and places of birth & death correspond to our family genealogy records.
    I intend to follow up on is and find to tombstone in the cemetary.
    Thank you for your post.

    • Arlene just seen your post. Have you followed up on any of your history. I am not too familiar with the Scott end but I have been researching the McCollochs for years. Susan McColloch was born to Captain George McColloch and Margaret Wilson. If you need any added information I can possibly help. Together Charles and Susan had 15 children I have a list of these names and dates of birth if needed.

      • George McCulloch was in a sense too young to serve in the Revolutionary War – only being about 12 or 13 at the time. He served and became a Captain during the War of 1812.

        Hope this helps.

      • This is in reference to Capt George McColloch. I have found in the David Shepherd papers from Nov 1779 a George McColloch listed. He would have been 16 by that time which was the right age. Any thought? Also, is there a direct e-mail address that I can contact you direct? Thanks, Gary Timmons

  • Thanks for letting me know! It’s always neat to find out you’ve helped someone 🙂

    Founders Cemetery is bounded on the front by a street (I can’t remember the name) and on the left side by an alley. The Scott stone is on the side of the cemetery away from the alley (and towards the back, if I recall correctly).

  • I was thrilled to see the tombstone of Charles and Susan McCulloch (my family’s spelling) Scott – like Arlene and apparently Tammie – I am a descendant of Charles and Susan (they are my great-great-great grandparents) through their son Andrew Zane. I have just got back to genealogy after two years of working on my master’s degree. Would be eager to exchange information and other facts. I have copies of pictures of both Charles and Susan.

  • I just happened upon this site today and can say with some certainty that this tombstone was erected upon the graves of Charles and Susan McColloch Scott in the 20th century due to the previous one no longer being in place. At the time it was placed, a news release was also printed in the Cambridge newspaper. Without going into my files, I would give the date at around 1990.

    Paul B. Scott
    Great-great-great-grandson of Charles and Susan McColloch Scott

  • I have not been on this site in a good while therefore I missed all the responses. There is actually a very extensive book that was created by Samuel McColloch which includes very extensive history dating all the way back to the Scotland days. It is a hardback book and very good reading. He and his son even went as far as the DNA testing. The book also has various legal documents, land papers, wills ect. His e-mail is He updates the book about once every 2 years. Liz Gunderson also has done alot of research. I believe her site is Both very helpful on any research. Also feel free to e-mail myself at

    • Tammie –

      Thanks for your comment. I have the original book that Sam McColloch wrote and even contributed some information for it including connecting our McCollochs to the Zane family from whom author Zane Grey descended.

      I had lost touch with Sam – so it is good to have his e-mail and see what he has added since the first book.

  • Paul – I am going to reply to your e-mail. It was great to hear from another Scott descendant.

    Shelly Chapman.