Genealogy Clues on a Headstone

Share This Post

Can a cemetery headstone tell you much about your ancestor’s life? Headstones have been used for centuries to mark the final resting place of deceased individuals. The amount of information included on headstones varies from nearly nothing to a whole lot of details. But, no matter how much or how little is included on the stone, is there more to learn from the final burial place of your ancestor?

Watch This Episode, or Continue Reading Below

Clues Found on the Headstone

Today we are looking at the headstone of William W. Hill, M.D. buried in the Rocheport City Cemetery, Rocheport, Boone County, Missouri, as found on the website His headstone has more information than many and gives great clues about his family.

Photo used by permission of Find-A-Grave contributor Southerland

The headstone reads:

William W. Hill, M.D.
BIRTH 4 Aug 1856
DEATH 26 Apr 1879
Son of James H. & Sallie D. Hill
Rocheport City Cemetery
Rocheport, Boone County, Missouri, USA
MEMORIAL ID 65171447

From this headstone we learn:

  • William’s full name and occupation
  • His birth and death dates
  • The names of his parents
Clue Web from William W Hill’s Headstone

Expanding Our View

So, we already gain so much information from this headstone. But what else can we learn from this same cemetery, if we expand our view a little more? Often family members were buried in the same cemetery, sometimes for several generations.

What do we find if we look at the other Hill surname entries in this Rocheport City Cemetery? On the Find A Grave website, this is very easy by pushing the “See more Hill memorials in:” options on the right side of the memorial screen. Then you can choose to see all same-surnames in the cemetery or even the entire county. I prefer to expand my search one level at a time. What other Hills are in the same cemetery?

A Possible Father

There are several, but those of most interest are the two that could be the parents listed on William’s headstone. A possible candidate for a father for William is the following entry from the Rocheport City Cemetery:

“James A. Hill
Birth: Dec 24, 1818, Lexington, Kentucky USA
Death: Oct 12, 1870, Boone County, Missouri USA
Family Links:
Spouse: Sarah Hannah Wilcox Hill (1825-1903)
Memorial #49281743”

Find-A-Grave memorials are entered by volunteers and any additional information, aside from the information that can be read from the headstone, must be verified with other sources. But this memorial give a good starting point to establish William Hill’s family.

A Possible Mother

Following the link given in the James A Hill entry for his spouse Sarah Hannah Wilcox Hill, we find this entry on Find-A-Grave:

“Sarah Hannah Wilcox Hill
Birth: Jun 27, 1825, Henry County, Tennessee, USA
Death: Jan 10, 1903, Rocheport, Boone County, Missouri, USA
w/o James A. Hill m 14 Nov 1847, Boone County, Missouri
Memorial #49281652”

Sallie was a common nickname for a given name Sarah, so this is a possible mother for William W. Hill. The Find-A-Grave entry for Sarah also lists her parents and several siblings. This individuals can be researched in a future session.

Adding to the Clue Web

Clue Web with Potential Parents

We can expand William W. Hill’s clue web with the additional information from James and Sarah’s headstones. However, it is important to remember that this is just the starting point. We need to seek out additional records to verify if these truly are the parents of William.

The Questions

So, what are some questions this headstone leaves us with?

  • Why did William W. Hill die at such a young age?
  • How did William earn the Dr. credential listed on his headstone?

What to Research Next

Where do the clues and questions from this document lead us next?

  • 1860, 1870 US Federal Censuses to find William in the household of his parents
  • Newspaper death notices or obituaries for William in 1879, James in 1870, and Sarah/Sallie in 1903
  • Medical school records for William W Hill: Conduct a search for medical schools in Missouri or surrounding areas at the time William W may have attended
  • Licensing records for medical practice for William W Hill. Look into laws governing the licensing of physicians during this time period.

Citation for this headstone:

Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images ( : accessed 18 March 2019), memorial 65171447, Dr. William W. Hill (1856-1879), Rocheport City Cemetery, Rocheport, Boone County, Missouri; gravestone photograph by Southerland.

Link to these exact headstones:

William W. Hill, M.D. memorial

James A. Hill memorial

Sarah Hannah Wilcox Hill memorial

Pin for Later

Subscribe to the Boundless Video Channel!

If you enjoyed this video tutorial from the Boundless Video Channel, please subscribe and join me for future episodes.

See you next time,


Share This Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *