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May 3, 2014

GENEALOGY: Symbols or initials on stones indicate organizations

TERRE HAUTE — When looking for our ancestors’ grave stones, we often find symbols or initials on a stone that indicate a person was the member of some kind of organization. There are many of these, and some will be unfamiliar to a person nowadays. Here is an alphabetic list of organizations and their symbols that might help you in your search:

The American Legion is an organization for veterans. Their symbol is a metal medallion with a star on it and the words American Legion.

An anchor with a shield and the initials AOUW, stands for the Ancient Order of United Workmen. This was a fraternal benefit society established in 1868 to provide insurance death benefits to families of deceased workers. It’s membership was over 300,000 by 1895.

A globe-like circle with the initials AR stands for Arbeiter Ring, now known as the Workman’s Circle. This is an Jewish fraternal organization founded in America in 1900 to promote social justice and progressive change. The organization runs many social programs.

A nine-pointed star with the word Baha’i represents a member of the Baha’i faith. For more information on this, visit www.bahai.org.

An elk with the initials BPOE represents a member of the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, a fraternal organization and social club established in 1868 and still well-known today.

The initials BRT with a train or any other railroad image represents a member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen. This labor and fraternal organization was founded in 1883 and reached its highest membership in 1956. In 1969 it merged with the United Transportation Union. The goals of the organization were to negotiate contracts for train workers and provide them with insurance.

Cohanim (or kohanim) hands, while not an organization, is a Jewish symbol sometimes found on graves. When these hands are depicted on a grave marker, it indicates that the person was a member of the priestly tribe of Aaron. The symbol depicts two hands with the thumbs joined at their tips and sometimes the index fingertips are touching each other. There is a split in the middle of the four fingers, the first two fingers touching each other and the last two touching.

A metal medallion with a spinning wheel, the dates 1607-1699, and reading “Colonial Daughters of the 17th Century” represents a member of that organization. Founded in 1896, the society is still in existence today and admits women who are descended from an ancestor “who rendered services in the American English Colonies between May 1607 and December 1699.”

A tomahawk with the initials D of P, represents a member of the Degree of Pocahontas. This is the women’s auxiliary branch of the Improved Order of Redmen. Founded in 1885, the society is still in existence. In 1907 it had 26,000 members and, by 1921, 120,000. The group is divided into “councils,” and the council number is often listed on the grave.

The DAR is the Daughters of the American Revolution, a non-profit, patriotic, lineage-based society for women directly descended from an ancestor who aided the cause of independence in the American Revolution. It was founded in 1890 and is still active today. Its symbol is a wheel with 13 spokes tipped with stars and an unfurled flag in the background.

This list will be continued next week.

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