Until the late nineteenth century the cost of erecting a gravestone over the burial place of a family member was beyond the means of many of our poorer ancestors. Those who could afford it, however, would no doubt have hoped that the memorial would last for many years after its erection. Sadly, as most family historians realise, this was often not the case. While headstones deteriorate at varying rates depending on climate conditions and the type of stone, a large number have also been moved during alterations to the church or churchyard. Some memorials have been re-sited but some, unfortunately, were not and have been destroyed. Therefore, even if you find a memorial to an ancestor don’t presume that he or she must actually lie beneath.
The burial sites of our ancestors might also have been disturbed by later burials, while both the church and churchyard were places where social status played an important part. There are examples of individuals arranging for the occupants of family burial vaults within the church to be re-interred outside in the churchyard so that they themselves could take over the more prized location within the church after their own death.
Even in the churchyard there are examples of what can best be described as the inconsiderate siting of memorial stones, these being placed where they all but obscure earlier gravestones. A good case is to be found at Brookland Church, Romney Marsh, Kent. Here a large body tomb dated 1852 in memory of Ellen the wife of Clifton Simmonds has been rudely placed so that it backs right on to the front of an earlier gravestone to Robert Skeere and his wife Mary, erected approximately 50 years earlier. Somewhat galling for the Skeere family!