Finding where your ancestors are buried is high on most genealogy researchers' list of things to do. Tips and resources to find start your search!
How To

How to Find Where Your Ancestors Are Buried

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

    1. 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. One of the biggest genealogical 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. Let's look at 8 sources of information to determine where your ancestor may have been buried.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.]
    5. Church Cemeteries – Do you know where your ancestors attended church?  Check their cemeteries. Call the church if you are not close enough to go.  One of the biggest genealogical 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. Let's look at 8 sources of information to determine where your ancestor may have been buried.
    6. 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.
    7. FindAGrave : An online database of millions of graves contributed by users.
    8. 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.

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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?

One of the biggest genealogical 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. Let's look at 8 sources of information to determine where your ancestor may have been buried.

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.

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Finding where your ancestors are buried is high on most genealogy researchers' list of things to do. Tips and resources to find start your search!

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9 Comments

  • comet

    Don’t forget to check under OTHER family names for burial plots; I could not ohysically find one that the cemetary caretaker had TOLD me where to look for it; so my daughter and I fanned out and she was calling out the names in her section to me; I suddenly heard her call out the maiden name of the person I had been looking for; when we looked at the LARGE stone (after having been told my whole life that No; we neveer HAd a “family plot”!!) I discovered that there were something like 14 people buried in the plot! Only a few names were ON the stone and there were no smaller ones; but on the bottom of the stone were two names completely foreign to me; later I discovered that these were a third wives brothers. And I found out that one man I was always TOLD was a “blood relative” was actually my Geat Great Grandmothers step son from her second marriage! He was also in the plot along with his father and his step mother; several actual blood relatives; and NOT Great Great Grandmothers first husband and father of my Great Grandmother; he is perhaps now found as far as cemetary name etc but no proof yet. Another nmystery to solve!

    Also-qyestion while you still can–older relatives on WHY some one might have been buried in a certain plot; I am still NOT convinced that a child that died at 9 days old was buried in some “Italian Cemetry” when the childs grand parents had endowed a Church in the next State over; the parents were NOT indigent; they were NOT Italian—the signatures of the parents on the birth certificate do not match known signatures of theirs—and the Funeral Home person told me there was a lot of “sketchy” records (complete but–faked) in the time I was looking at; with a “baby selling ring” connected to a former owner. Hmmmm—-Do not trust; verify!

    • LisaL

      Talking to older family members is so important! Sometimes, they are the only ones who still know the information that was common knowledge a few generations back. Love your statement – Do not trust, verify!

  • Carol Jones

    Use the date of death to find obituaries, cemetery records, civil and church records, probates, Social Security, and where applicable body transit records.

    • LisaL

      Thanks, Carol! Have you had experience in using body transit records? I would be interested in hearing your research experience with these records.

  • Jeff

    Be check to check with fraternal organizations: For Southerners like me, The Sons of Confederate Veterans, Daughters of the Confederacy and others know where folks are buried and how to find and access them. They have helped me on several occasions to find where relatives are (or were, since the Rappahannock River has taken part of one my family’s old cemeteries) buried.

  • KATHLEEN BERGERON

    Sadly, there are no death records for my great grandmother, no newspaper obits, nor any funeral home records that I have been able to find. It seems as though my great grandfather had her buried in an unmarked grave and never even took their children to the site because my grandmother swore she never knew anything about where her mother was laid to rest. It is my biggest roadblock and my biggest source of frustration.

    • Linda Cahill

      I have a very similar story, Kathleen. My great grandmother was in the 1940 census and then disappeared. She lived with her adult children since her arrival to the U.S. in 1911. She never became a citizen, never worked, never owned a home. There is no paper trail that I can find, she isn’t buried at any of the cemeteries where her children are buried and I think that all of the relatives that had met her are deceased. Talk about a brick wall. Maybe some day some one will come up with some new clues.

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