As a genealogist, do you find yourself spending a lot of time in cemeteries? I do.
In fact, 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 and cemetery research?
We want to know where our ancestors are buried. We want those birth and death dates on the tombstone. 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 Are You My Cousin? readers report, is being unable to find an ancestor’s place of burial. Either online or in an actual physical cemetery, genealogy researchers get stymied.
Sometimes you just need to know what records to search, and sometimes you need to know who to ask.
7 Sources to Look For An Ancestor’s Grave Site
Think of the records you have used in the past to find where your ancestors are buried. How many resources or record types did you come up with?
Let’s take a look a 7 resources you can use in your search for that place of burial.
The Death Certificate
If death certificates were in use at the time of your ancestor’s death, that is an obvious first place to look. The place of burial will be listed and sometimes the funeral home, too. Unfortunately for researchers, death certificates will not take us back many generations in our research.
In the example of Alex L Bowen only the town where he is buried is listed – Omega, VA. In some cases, this can be an indication of burial in a family cemetery on the family’s property. This is not always true, of course, but does raise the possibility.
Also note the undertaker Js. Owen of South Boston. Using a city directory can reveal which funeral home he worked for leading to possible records.
Funeral Home Records
As mentioned above, knowing the undertaker or funeral homes in the area can lead the researcher to more 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.
Genealogy Tip: Look for transcribed records in state archives or in university library collections.
The Cemetery Office Where Your Ancestors Are Buried
Talk to the cemetery sexton or the person in charge of the cemetery. Unfortunately, physical evidence of all the graves in a cemetery may not survive time. Some cemeteries may have been abandoned.
Talk to the person in charge of the cemetery and ask if and/or how you could access their records of if they could help you search for a grave.
Pro Genealogy Tip: Call the cemetery office and talk with a real person. The workers are often very helpful over the phone.
Ask your family including your extended family. 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 with her 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.]
Do you know where your ancestors attended church? Check the church cemeteries. Reach out by phone 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 for finding the smaller family cemeteries.
As a bonus, the local researchers can provide you with directions to the cemeteries.
FindAGrave : An online database of millions of graves contributed by users.
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.
BillionGraves: This is another online database and a great option, too.
Get Your Free Copy of The Big Genie List
The Big Genie List is full of resources, databases and educational opportunities to assist you in your search to find your ancestors.
When you grab your copy , you will also receive the weekly Are You My Cousin? emails. Enjoy!
One More Thing To Consider About Where An Ancestor Was Buried
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 in this case, whose grave this is is not known. No markings are on the stone and no identifying records exist. This happens and we will not find all of our ancestors’ graves. Keep your eyes open as you proceed with your research. You never know when another clue may appear.
More Resources on Researching An Ancestor’s Death Records
- How to Find Your Ancestor’s Death Date (Lots of places to find that death date.)
- Your Ancestors + Medical Genealogy (Yes! Your ancestor’s medical history can give you clues to follow up on!)
- Back To Genealogy Basics – Will and Estates (Tips to analyze those records.)
- What Is That Family Cemetery Really Telling You? (Don’t miss out on all of the clues there!)