As a genealogist, I spend a lot of time in cemeteries.
(I might have spent a Sunday afternoon running through eastern NC cemeteries…in my Sunday dress! Don’t judge, I had limited time and a lot of ancestors to find.)
What is our fascination with cemeteries?
We want to know where our ancestors are buried. We want to connect with our ancestors to a physical place. We want to know what other information their grave sites can tell us about other ancestors.
But….one of the biggest frustrations I hear from you in emails, is being unable to find an ancestor’s place of burial. Either online or in an actual place.
Sometimes we just need to know the records to find. Sometimes we need to know who to ask.
8 Sources to Look For An Ancestor’s Grave Site
- The Death Certificate – If a death certificate was created, this is an obvious first place to look. The place of burial will be listed and sometimes the funeral home. Unfortunately for us, death certificates will not take us back many generations in our research.
- Funeral Home Records – Check with local town and/or county funeral records for your ancestor. This can be “hit or miss”, but some funeral homes have their records available. Tip: Look for transcribed records in state archives or in university library collections.
- Cemetery Offices: Talk to the cemetery sexton or the person in charge. Unfortunately, physical evidence of all the graves in a cemetery may not survive time. Talk to the person in charge of the cemetery and ask if and/or how you could access their records. Tip: Calling the cemetery office and talk with a real person. The workers are often very helpful over the phone.
- Family Members: Ask your family including your extended family. Tip: Ask more than one person. Remember, too, no cousin is too far removed in locale or relationship to have information on your family. Early in my research I had inquired of my great aunt if a Maddox family cemetery existed. She did not know of any. On another visit that included her first cousin, I again asked about a Maddox family cemetery. Her cousin stated, “It’s out at the old home place. Don’t you remember? We used to play hide and seek in it.” [Insert genealogy happy dance.]
- Church Cemeteries – Do you know where your ancestors attended church? Check their cemeteries. Call the church if you are not close enough to go.
- Local Genealogy Societies -Ask the genealogists and town historians in the area where your ancestors lived. Frequently these individuals are your best source of information on the smaller family cemeteries.
- FindAGrave : An online database of millions of graves contributed by users.
- CemeteryCensus : This is a lesser known online grave database, but a great one to check. Check CemeteryCensus.com frequently for updates. Tip: If you find your ancestor here, contact the person(s) who contributed the information. These men and women have an incredible wealth of knowledge on small and large cemeteries and the families in their counties.
One More Thing To Consider…..
Would you recognize your ancestor’s tombstone?
Seems like a silly question, but…. consider what types of tombstones were common in your ancestor’s area and time. Does this look like a tombstone?
This is a field stone marking a grave. Field stones were commonly used in earlier times to mark a grave. Often families could not afford a fancier stone Unfortunately, whose grave is not known. No markings are on the stone and no identifying records exist. This happens and we will not find all of the ancestor graves. Keep your eyes open as you proceed with your research. You never know when another clue may appear.
As always, I’ll ask…..
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