Genealogy Research

What’s In My Backpack? | Genealogy Research in the Cemetery

Discover 9 essential items to take with you for a day of genealogy research in the cemetery to be successful and safe finding your ancestors.

Now it’s no surprise that I enjoy researching ancestors in the cemetery.

Lisa Lisson - woman with glasses and brown hair - taking selfie in a cemetery.
Lisa in the Cemetery….Again!

When I head out for a day of researching, I always take a few essentials with me. I’m going to show you what I pack in my backpack when I take my research out of the office and into the family cemetery.

In a recent video on cemetery research, I happened to mention my backpack I always take with me when I go out to the family cemetery or the local cemetery to research and find my ancestors. A number of you actually asked me to share what I put in my backpack.

Why Take a Backpack Anyway?

One of the first reasons I want to take a backpack is to keep my hands free. I like to be hands free, when I’m researching, particularly when I’m walking and spending time outside. Of course, the backpack holds all those things that I need when I’m focusing on finding those elusive ancestors in the cemetery.

Some items are needed when out in the cemetery that simply are note needed for researching at an archives.

What Type of Backpack

Let’s look at that backpack.

My backpack is really a just a basic backpack. It is not unique for genealogy. In fact, this one I got at Amazon. It is bright pink because I want to be visible when I’m out there.

[Plus, I like pink!]

The backpack is a regular backpack that a college or high school student would use for their study. The most important thing is to have one that’s comfortable for you to wear. One thing I really want to have on my backpack is lots of pockets and a place where I keep a water bottle, so a webbed pocket is a nice thing.

Essential Items in the Backpack for Cemetery Research

Time to unpack the backpack!

The first thing that I take with me is the research plan for that cemetery. I usually print out a hard copy, but sometimes I actually have this one on my cell phone. Either way, I’m going to have a copy of my research plan with me.

I like having a paper version that I can carry with me. That way I do not have to stop and pull up the digital copy on my cell phone. It’s within easy reach the whole time.

The research plan for the cemetery can be quite simple. In the past, my simplest cemetery research plans were the list of ancestors’ gravesites I was seeking. Simple is fine and can suffice, especially for smaller cemeteries.

Next in the backpack is a legal pad of paper to write down information and notes that I come across. It’s a great place to capture any questions that might pop into my mind.

Now, again, I might use my cell phone to take some of those notes if needed. I can even record a voice message to myself on my phone. But there’s something about just going old school where I can grab my paper, grabbed my pens, write it down and move on.

Sometimes, the low-tech option is quicker.

Photo of gravestone, inset of blue backpack. Black text on tan background reading What's in my genealogy backpack?
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Next in the backpack is my cell phone! I always have my cell phone as most people do these days. It serves as my camera, and I take a lot of photographs during any cemetery research. Learn about the six types of photographs that I always take when I’m doing cemetery research in the video at the bottom of this post.

The phone is also serves as a safety device. Make sure you can contact someone in case of an emergency.

I also use my cell phone to access FindAGrave or Billiongraves. This allows me to use the GPS find a gravesite (BillionGraves) or potentially find grave plot information (FindAGrave).

The next item in my backpack? Ah, it’s very important. Bug Spray! Yes, bug spray is important. If you are like me, you can get lots of mosquito bites when exploring and researching cemeteries.

Next up, I have my own little first aid kit in the backpack. It includes:

  • Anti-itch cream (in case those bugs keep biting)
  • Band aids
  • Purell wipes or hand sanitizer
  • Antibacterial cream like Neosporin

I usually will have two water bottles in the backpack – One for me to drink and one in case I need to rinse dirt or debris off of a stone.

What else is in that pink backpack?

I take an old bath towel for researching for several purposes.

When I’m taking photographs of a gravestone, sometimes I need to get up close to get the best photograph. Sometimes that means sitting or lying on the ground if the gravestone is small or especially low to the ground. It’s also good just to kneel on. So, I like to take a towel with me.

Next are pens and pencils – I use mechanical pencils. I learned the hard way to make sure and pack extra.

Wet wipes are a staple in the backpack. Cemetery research can be dirty work, especially if you’re getting down on the ground. I always keep the wet wipes in my backpack to be able to clean up afterwards.

Sometimes, I pack a pair of work gloves or gardening gloves. Occasionally, weeds or bushes need to be moved aside to be able to read a tombstone. I find this more of an issue in smaller, unkempt family cemeteries. The bushes can grow up quite a bit, and you just need to kind of pull those out of the way. Gloves come in handy for that.

What else have I got in the backpack? My wallet! I always have my ID in my wallet with me. There’s no need for a purse.

Lastly, cemetery research can be dirty work, and it can also make you hungry. So, I like to take snacks with me. 😋

I keep what’s in the backpack to the essentials and light. It’s not super heavy, but it’s those little extra things that make life a little easier when I’m out researching in the cemetery. Being prepared allows me to stay out there longer and complete the research.

Let me know in the comments below your must have item that you take with you when you go research in the family cemetery.

Another Essential for Genealogy Research in the Cemetery

One other thing that I find essential when it comes to cemetery research is not going to be in my backpack but on my feet. That is my hiking shoes.

You want a good pair of sturdy shoes when you’re out there in the family cemetery. We could be in the middle of the woods, or we could be in a nicely groomed well-kept cemetery. Either way, we need to have good walking shoes with good traction so that we are safe. If we do this long enough, we’re going to be in cemeteries where the ground is uneven or rocky.

If you are wondering, I wear Merrell hiking shoes.

If you want to learn more about the 6 types of photographs I take when researching in the cemetery, check out this video below.

Other Helpful Posts on Cemetery Research:

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  • Jean Neuer

    Lisa, I’d like to mention some things I learned by accident: 1- Ask for directions to the cemetery (if private: it may be on private land (need permission)/not marked (one was down a driveway of a farm/another was across the yard and down a hill!)
    2-if private, and anybody else is there * –ask them who they’re related to (it might be you!)
    3- Write ahead to local family members (if you can) –you might get a personal guide!
    #1 & 2- (PA) I had only one day in the area, wrote ahead, met some family and got loose directions (I found one family home, managed to talk to a +90 year-old wife of my grandfather’s youngest half brother’s son (& got better directions + some family history). I’d have never found the graveyard w/o her help!–It was down a private driveway, and the road wound behind a farmhouse!) While taking pictures, a lady came up to me and asked if I was lost (nice way of saying “This is private property”. ) It turns out we were related.

    #3 (WV) I had contacted a local expert, who was loosely related, and I got a 2-day tour of a- the family home (still standing from colonial times), saw my ancestor’s gravestone (literally a field stone carved with initials/dates). Got a tour of the site where their church was and land where family members farmed. Day #2 He drove me to a fort where my ancestor’s mother was taken by Indians during an attack on that fort (many others died). He also took me to a site where the Indians camped, the first night on the trail with the captives.

    Again, I could never have had that experience without his help! Sometimes serindippity happens. Love your post! Jean

    • LisaL

      Yes, to all of our suggestions! I had my own fun adventure when an elderly church member pulled up to the church cemetery my dad and I were checking out for my GGG grandfather. Turns out they were in school together 60+ years earlier and we got the full tour of the local church and all the family sites pointed out to us!

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