Visit a cemetery and discover the past

Image by Sunday’s Child

Stuck for a great local history excursion?  Historic cemeteries offer inquirers a number of insights into life in the past.

The key to a good cemetery excursion is providing the students with an investigative purpose or question.  Visiting a cemetery without a purpose would be akin to browsing a database for leisure reading.  However, with the right questions, a cemetery visit can provide students with opportunities to form their own understanding of key ideas such as demographics, social tensions, wealth and health.

Here are some example questions we suggest for making an excursion to a cemetery a meaningful learning experience.

  • Take a sample of the ‘age of death’ from a certain time period.  What is the average age of death?  How different is that from today?  What could you suggest is the reason for this difference?
  • How are the gravestones organised? (Year, religion, race?) Has that changed?  Why do you think they are organised this way?
  • Find the grandest gravestone.  Whose is it?  What does it say about him/her?  Can you find any other information online?  Why do you think their’s is the grandest?
  • Find the oldest gravestone.  What is the year of death?  Who is it?  What can you find out about them online?  What can it tell you about the origins of this town?
  • Look for a group of gravestones that are distinct or unmarked.  Are they from a particular group of people?  Why do you think they are different?
  • Take a sample of graves who say the person’s place of origin, from a certain time period.  What place do the most number of people come from?  Take a sample from another time.  Has the demographic changed?  Can you suggest why?

If you come to visit us here at Sovereign Hill for a camp, you might like to consider a visit to the Old Ballaarat Cemetery as part of your itinerary.  Your students can investigate some of the questions above and can see the two Eureka Monuments and visit the gravesites of key Eureka people.  You can search the online database before you come to identify particular sites you want to visit.

If you can’t visit a cemetery in person, check to see if there is an online database.  Many cemeteries have them now and they can supply you with some of the basic information such as name and date of death.  Here are links to the Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong cemetery databases.

Please comment to share your own tips or ideas for investigative questions, tasks or links.

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