Lidija Sambunjak, professional genealogist

Pictures engraved in the stone

This week I’m back to work after some weeks off and my first job was to visit a parish near Koper, Slovenia, where I went to research vital records in order to build a family tree. I also visited a local cemetery to take pictures of graves that carry surnames in which my client was interested in.

I noticed that quite a few graves had pictures of deceased persons engraved in the stone. As I looked at those pictures, I realized what a wonderful document of times past they are! Among the oldest pictures impressed on gravestones was that of a certain Anton, who was born in 1878 and died in 1952. The picture was obviously taken in his young age, when he was serving in the navy, and it may very well be taken before the turn of the century.

For the picture to be preserved for so long takes a small miracle. How many of us have a picture of an ancestor born in the 19th century? Not many, I presume. In Croatia or Slovenia, people often didn’t have means to be photographed. And when they did scrap up the money for a family photography, pictures were often lost into obscurity due to lack of information written on them. There is a whole web site at that publishes old pictures of people whose names were lost, many of whom are from countries of former Yugoslavia. Those pictures remain silent witnesses of times unknown and long gone.

Anton Pribaz grave stone with the picture from 19th century from a graveyard near Koper

Anton Pribaz grave stone with the picture from 19th century from a graveyard near Koper (click to enlarge)

On the gravestone, pictures are rather safe. There, one can be fairly sure they are kept for future generations to see them. From the gravestone, they can be duplicated by taking quality photographs of the gravestone. And it typically was and still is the best picture of the deceased person his or her family had at the time. As decades and centuries come and go and the posterity grows in numbers so that not all of them have photographs of their ancestors, a photo on the grave stone can be a real blessing from the past for each family member today.