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Understanding Footstone Grave Markers

Understanding Footstone Grave Markers

Dating back to 3,000 B.C., we have used gravestones, tombstones, and headstones to mark the head of the burial place of a deceased loved one. In the 18th century, footstone grave markers were introduced and gained popularity. Today, some cemeteries even require the use of footstones in place of the more traditional headstones. 

So, what is a footstone, and should you choose one? We’ll be happy to answer the first question so that you can decide the second.

What Is a Footstone?

A headstone is a grave marker that is placed at the head of a grave. It is traditionally made from granite or bronze and inscribed with the name, date of birth, and date of death of the person in the grave that it marks. It may be embellished with carving, photographs, epitaphs, or engraved verses. Headstones may be simple, installed lying flat and flush with the surrounding grass, or large, upright, and visually striking.

A footstone is a grave marker or monument that lies at the foot of a burial grave. Footstones are always placed at the headstone’s opposite end of the grave. These stones are used to mark the foot of a grave, serving as a boundary line for the burial plot. Like headstones, footstone grave markers may be flush with the grass or upright and engraved with text or images. When used with a headstone, the footstone is traditionally smaller and less ornate than the headstone, so they can often resemble a bedframe’s headboard and footboard. Footstones for graves come in many colors, designs, shapes, and sizes and are chosen to coordinate with the headstone. Most footstones are made of granite because it is exceptionally durable and resistant to weathering.

A standard flat footstone size is approximately two feet wide, which can accommodate about 80 characters of text engraved on the stone. Most people engrave just initials or small inscriptions on footstones that are paired with headstones so as not to distract from the headstone. This grave marker is placed on the footing or a concrete slab that is horizontal and flush with the surface of the ground. Whether you choose a lawn-level or upright style, a handcrafted footstone will only enhance the beauty of your loved one's gravesite, adding an appealing symmetry.

Other Reasons to Choose Footstones for Graves

Footstone grave markers identify the lower boundary of the gravesite, the way the headstone marks the upper border. This helps visitors avoid walking across the grave, which is deemed disrespectful or bad luck. By creating boundary lines between plots, footstones also clearly distinguish one gravesite from another for cemetery workers when they need to remove monuments for repair or replacement.

Family burial plots often have one large, upright headstone for the entire family, with individuals marked by separate footstones engraved with the individual’s identifying information. Without space for separate headstones for every member of the family, a footstone serves as an ideal alternative.

Why Some Cemeteries Allow only Footstones

As cemeteries become more crowded, some limit the use of large, upright headstones, and allow only flat, grass-level gravemarkers. Others only permit flat footstone grave markers as stand-alone memorials, rather than the larger headstones. In this case, visitors typically don’t realize the grave marker is a footstone. There is nothing to highlight the grave markers' smaller size without a headstone for reference.

Military Gravesite Markers and Footstones

When a veteran of the armed forces dies, family members may apply for a veteran's grave marker from the U.S. government. The veteran’s marker is typically a flat marker that features the veteran’s name, dates, and military service information. Some families elect to use this gravemarker as the footstone, perhaps when the veteran is included in a family burial. Others use the veteran’s gravestone as the headstone marker and add the deceased’s initials and a favorite verse, short quote, or prayer on a footstone.

What Can Be Written On a Footstone?

In general, the size of footstones for graves allows about 80 characters to be inscribed. Feel free to write what you feel, memorialize your loved one with a favorite quote, a cherished memory, or evoke the spirit of who they were in life. 

If the footstone will be used in conjunction with a headstone, you’ll typically inscribe information that supplements rather than duplicates that on the headstone. While the deceased’s full name and dates are engraved on the headstone, footstones usually bear just the person’s initials and a short verse or prayer. 

Epitaphs on footstones often have a more personal feel than the more formal expressions reserved for the headstones. When a headstone reads “In Loving Memory,” the footstone may read something like “My beloved, my best friend, my soulmate,” or more simply, “Until we meet again.” A veteran’s footstone may include more personal information than the government-issued headstone.

Placement of Footstones for Graves

It may seem obvious from the names that the headstone goes at the head of the grave, and the footstone goes at the foot. However, as we have seen, sometimes the footstone is the sole grave marker. In that case, it typically goes at the head of the grave.

As you may already know, most headstones in America and Europe face east because it was believed that the deceased would rise again on the day of resurrection. Members of the Christian faith wanted their dead to rise facing Christ coming from Jerusalem on Judgment Day. A footstone most often faces in the same direction as its headstone does. 

The only exception to the eastward-facing graves for Christians was for members of the clergy. They were buried facing west so that when they were resurrected, they would be facing their flock to lead them into paradise.

By marking the length of a grave, footstones lend symmetry to the gravesite and can provide additional information about the deceased. In addition, they can be used to avoid overcrowding and to let visitors know not to walk on the grave. We hope that this article was informative and helpful. If you have any questions about this article or our selection of grave markers, we would be pleased to assist you. Please feel free to contact us at (800) 611-1340. One of our experienced and friendly representatives is standing by to help in any way we can.

At Legacy Headstones, we would be honored to make your loved one’s final resting place beautiful and memorable.