Headstone Symbols: Three Chain Links

The meaning of the symbols commonly found on cemetery gravestones and markers

Three-link chain with
A three-link chain is a symbol typically found on older cemetery tombstones, gravemarkers and monuments. Photo © Chris Raymond

Depending upon your perspective, a cemetery, church graveyard or memorial park can prove a location to avoid as long as humanly possible or a place of fascination and even enjoyment. For many in the latter camp, visiting the silent stone sentinels and mute metal markers found in a cemetery offers an opportunity to pay homage to the dead, trace their family history and genealogy, capture interesting photographs, or find moments of solitude and contemplation.

If you've visited a cemetery for any reason at some point, you might have wondered about a design you saw carved on an old tombstone and what it means. This article examines the meaning behind the headstone symbols commonly found in cemeteries, church graveyards and memorial parks and, specifically, what a three-link chain (with or without the letters F L T) represents.

The Symbol
Typically found on older cemetery tombstones, gravemarkers and monuments, the symbol comprises a short length of chain made of three links that form a short curve, e.g., the top of a circle.

In addition, the capital letters "F L T" might appear within the chain links (as seen in the photograph above), but not necessarily so, and the three-link chain might occasionally appear in conjunction with a different symbol, such as a compass and carpenter's square.

The Meaning
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization established in England in the mid-1700s, arose when a group of ordinary citizens established a monetary fund from their personal donations for use during difficult times, "such as sickness, losing a job and even death." Group members worked together "to help each other and the unfortunate families [get] back on their feet, whether it was rebuilding a barn that had burned or putting in a new crop after a devastating season."

While the actual origin of the organization's name has probably been lost to time, one possible explanation is that other citizens in 18th-century England found the selfless motives of this group unusual and considered its members an "odd bunch of fellows."

Regardless, in 1819, Thomas Wildey formed the first Odd Fellows order in the United States.

The stated mission of this Baltimore, Maryland, lodge was to, "Visit the sick, relieve the distress, bury the dead and educate the orphans," reflecting the challenging social and economic conditions existing at the time due to a yellow fever epidemic and significant unemployment.

The three-link chain is the main symbol of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and its presence on a cemetery tombstone, gravemarker or monument indicates that the deceased belonged to the organization. By themselves, the three chain links represent friendship, love and truth but it is not uncommon to find the acronym "F L T" within the links, as seen in the photograph above.

As noted earlier, the Odd Fellows symbol might occasionally appear in conjunction with a different fraternal-organization symbol on a headstone, such as the Freemasons, which merely indicates that the deceased belonged to both organizations.

Other Cemetery Headstone Symbols:
Christian Cross with Crown
Compass, Carpenter's Square and "G"
Death's Head
Finger Pointing Up
Handshake or Clasped Hands
"IHS" or IHC"
Laurel Wreath
Oak Leaves and Acorns
Open Book
Weeping Willow Tree

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How to Clean a Cemetery Tombstone or Marker
3 Reasons to Buy a Cemetery Plot in Advance
Headstones Get a High-tech Makeover

"About Us." Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Retrieved November 25, 2015. http://www.ioof.org/IOOF/About_Us/About_US/IOOF/About.aspx

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