Tui Snider: What possessed you to start on this project?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Q: What possessed you to start on this project?

Writing research often takes me to historic cemeteries. I love it! But all these trips to the graveyard made me realize that us modern folks have forgotten what burial grounds are for. 

Graveyards don’t exist simply to shelter the dead. They are also meant to nurture the living. In fact, it may surprise your readers to learn that America’s garden cemeteries were our nation’s first public parks! 

During the Victorian Era, especially, families might take a picnic to a cemetery for a fun day in nature. Yes, FUN! 

Graveyards could be quite lively on a sunny day, with hunters shooting game, artists painting landscapes, and families strolling about. Some garden cemeteries even hosted public festivals and carriage races!

In recent decades, many of America’s original garden cemeteries have been placed on the historical register. More and more cemeteries across the country offer historic tours, annual festivals and events which run the gamut from jazz picnics, birding tours, costumed reenactments, performances of Shakespeare, and more. 

Also, since the shrubs and flowers planted during the Victorian Era are now a source for heritage bulbs and plantings, many burial grounds have arboretum status. In this way, America’s historic cemeteries have become living libraries!

Another thing that deepened my appreciation of historic cemeteries was understanding the meaning behind the many different symbols people used on their headstones. The meaning behind these has been forgotten over time, and that’s a shame. 

Anyway, I tried finding a concise guidebook to graveyards and cemetery symbols, one I could keep in my purse or glovebox. While there are a lot of great books out on the subject, I never found quite what I wanted. So I decided to write it myself!

My hope for Understanding Cemetery Symbols: Your Guide to Exploring Historic Graveyards is to inspire readers to get out and enjoy these living libraries for themselves! 

Q: Do you consider yourself a history buff? Or are you just interested in quirky things?

While I now consider myself a history buff, I hated the subject in school. It seemed like all we did was learn about wars and memorize battle dates. Boring!

But even as a kid, when it came time to write a history report, I managed to dig up quirky facts, like how Paul Revere was a talented silversmith who made a special collar for his beloved pet squirrel, or how Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay on farting, invented a musical instrument that made people go insane, and believed in the healing power of taking “moon baths” in the nude. 

Q: How did you research for this book?

First off, I read (and continue to read) every book on cemeteries and symbolism I can get my hands on! The research is ongoing.

The bulk of my research was offline, but I used the internet, too. For instance, the US Department of Veterans Affairs website was helpful for researching military headstones. (And I’m very grateful to them for granting me permission to use their Emblems of Belief graphics in the book.)

Visiting museums and speaking to curators, historians and other experts was helpful, too. I visited a Greek monastery, for instance, to learn about ex votos and the meaning behind the Eastern Cross. (I was left a little red-faced, however, when the first monk I spoke to simply shook his head and walked off. Turns out he had taken a vow of silence!)   

Last week, I gave a talk about Understanding Cemetery Symbols at the Southern Monument Builders Association (SMBA) conference. Wow! Was that ever a great experience. I came armed with a list of questions and they did not disappoint!

And, of course, I visit historic cemeteries every chance I get! I’ve got a research road trip coming up at the end of this month. I’ll be exploring historic graveyards, Native American burial mounds, scraped graveyards, spirit houses, and so much more along the way! (If you want to follow along, I’ll be posting photos on Twitter and Instagram as @TuiSnider as well as my FB Author Page: Author Tui Snider

Q: Will this be a series? If so, do you have any idea of how many books there will be? If not, what might be next on your agenda?

Oh, boy! While I knew that cemetery symbolism is a huge topic, it really hit home while writing Understanding Cemetery Symbols. People have been dying for a very long time, after all, and it doesn’t look like they will quit any time soon! 

Seriously though, every single chapter in this book could easily be expanded into an entire book of its own.

There’s a chapter on crosses, for instance. Sounds simple, right? But not only are there well over 300 different types of crosses, but nearly every cross goes by at least four different names, and has an extensive history behind it. Needless to say, I couldn’t include every single type of cross in Understanding Cemetery Symbols. So there’s a possible book topic, right there.

The same goes for my chapters entitled "Saints, Angels and Other Beings," "Cemetery Architecture," and "Plants, Flowers and Trees." And don’t even get me started on the chapter about "Clubs, Secret Societies & Organizations." Considering that at one time there were over 2000 active fraternal organizations in America, you can see how there's another topic that could easily grow into a book of its own!

That said, when I give presentations, audience members really love hearing about all the quirky graves I’ve seen, such as the military grave for Douglas the Confederate camel, or the alleged space alien grave in Aurora, Texas. So, while I don’t yet have a title for that one, I have enough bizarre burial stories to fill a book. That one could well be my next book, actually!

Q: How do you envision this book being used by people such as those researching their genealogy?

Good question! I really do have a mental picture of my readers - lol! While I'm sure every person will have their own way of using Understanding Cemetery Symbols, I have little daydreams of people keeping a copy in the glovebox of their car, so it’s handy for spontaneous trips to historic graveyards. I’d really love it if my book inspired people to visit graveyards in their area for the fun of it.

In fact, despite of the rather pointed epitaph I saw in Key West claiming, “If you’re reading this, you desperately need a hobby,” I think exploring cemeteries is a great hobby. For starters, it gets you out into nature and it helps you connect with history. 

You asked earlier if Understanding Cemetery Symbols was part of a series. Yes, it is! The title of the series is Messages from the Dead, because our ancestors left symbols on their headstones as messages to the living. 

So in addition to Understanding Cemetery Symbols, I have created two companion workbooks: Graveyard Journal: A Workbook for Exploring Historic Cemeteries, and Ghost Hunters Journal: A Workbook for Paranormal Investigators

Graveyard Journal is a workbook for keeping track of all the cemeteries you visit. It has room to record the details for up to 50 different burial grounds. 

Ghost Hunters Journal, on the other hand, is a place for paranormal investigators to keep track of the various experiences they have, whether they are in a haunted cemetery or elsewhere.

Even if you don’t use my companion workbooks, it’s a good idea to write down the details of your cemetery visits. Details can get fuzzy over time. You may forget which cemetery has your favorite angel statue, where the key to the graveyard gate is kept, or which farm to market road leads to your favorite country burial ground.

Q: Anything special you'd like to tell folks about this book?

I should let everyone know that I've got some crazy discounts going for a limited time. The paperback version is 1/2 off right now. It's currently only $9.99 (and will soon be $19.99). The ebook version is also deeply discounted, too. Right now, the preorder is only $2.99!

Also, if you or your readers ever share photos online from your own cemetery visits, I invite you to tag them with #TuiSnider #GraveHour and/or @TuiSnider, so that I can enjoy them and respond to you.

T U I  S N I D E R 
Amazon author page: Tui Snider
Twitter:        @TuiSnider
Facebook:   Tui.Snider

Both of my best selling travel books, Unexpected Texas 
Paranormal Texas, are available on Amazon!

A HUGE thank you to Tui for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions. Remember, you can still pre-order both the ebook and print book versions of "Understanding Cemetery Symbols" at Amazon at discounted prices!

Ciao for now!


  1. I love that you picture your readers treasuring your book. I need to try that!

    1. She's one smart cookie, isn't she!

    2. Oh, I have some pretty silly daydreams!

      But it helps me, when writing, to envision myself as the reader. What would I do with the book? What would make me love it? I really agonized over the layout for Understanding Cemetery Symbols. I truly want this one to be a tool that folks will toss in a bag and take with them for some fun adventures.

      I look forward to seeing readers post pictures, too, using the hashtags I created for the book. Have you ever done that, Stephanie? I got the idea after a couple readers tweeted pictures to me of themselves visiting places I had mentioned in my travel books. It was such a thrill, and so heartening to see that my books had taken them on an adventure.

  2. Hey Donna, this is great! My cousin, who is a few years older than me, is really into tracing our family through cemeteries. I called her immediately and she was so excited about it so I have forwarded the information to her.

    1. Awesome! I hope she will pre-order the book and save some money. ;)

    2. Ooh! I'm excited that she's excited, Sheila! Thank you for passing the book information along to your cousin. I hope she enjoys it. (And, as Donna mentions, it's half-price if you preorder it. Maybe you could snag it as a gift for her!)


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