Cemeteries have always been a favorite place for genealogists and cemetery records are an excellent source for genealogical information.
Cemetery records provide more than death inforamtion. They can also supply data about birth, marriage, relationships, military service, occupations, and other aspects of our ancestors’ lives such as organizational memberships.
The most common types of cemetery records are: card files; interment books; plot books; lot books; cemetery deeds; cemetery maps; payment registers; grave opening and transfer orders.
An individual’s card from a card file is the most common cemetery record. The card file is arranged alphabetically by surname of deceased and usually contains the date of burial, date of death, and location of the grave (section, lot, grave number, and lot owner). Other information that may be included is age, date and place of birth, marital status, name of parents, place of residence, burial permit number, funeral home or undertaker, and name of next of kin.
An interment, or day, book is the register of burials. This book is chronologically arranged by the date of burial. This is the record of what happens at the cemetery on a daily basis. The information usually included is name of deceased, date of death and burial, age, and location of the grave.
Diagram or plot books are the records of burials by plot and are generally arranged numerically by the plot numbers. Each plot usually has a page or section of a page in the book. The record lists all burials in each individual plot and may contain a diagram of the plot with each burial marked. The information in a plot book usually includes only names but may give additional information such as relationships. It is not uncommon to find several generations of a family in one plot. Plot books are especially important in identifying those without tombstones or burial markers, such as babies who were stillborn or died shortly after death.
Lot books are the list of lot owners. The books can be arranged alphabetically or by section and lot number. They can also be a series of maps instead of a book. The information included is the lot owner’s name and the lot location.
Cemetery deeds are legal documents giving title to a section of land (plot) within the cemetery. The information recorded is usually the name of the lot owner and the land description of the plot. They can be housed at the cemetery office or at the county courthouse. These deeds are commonly found among family records.
Cemetery maps might be available for the entire cemetery if it is small, or there may be section maps if the cemetery is large. In some cases, these maps name individual lot owners. A cemetery might supply copies of these maps to visitors to locate a grave.
Payment registers are the financial records for the cemetery. They can be arranged chronologically or alphabetically. The payments that are recorded are usually for plots, burials, and perpetual care.
Grave opening orders and transfers can be kept as separate records or as part of the interment book. Transfers occur when the remains are moved from the original resting place to another cemetery. The information usually includes the date the grave was opened or the remains transferred, name of funeral home, and the person who requested the opening or transfer.
The last type of cemetery records are tombstones. Tombstones will be covered in my June column.
One additional type of record that should be mentioned is the Burial Permit. Burial Permits are not strictly a cemetery record but are referenced in the card file and the interment books. Burial Permits began in the twentieth century and are required by the state department of health. They can usually be found at the county court house.
Cemetery records are usually found at the cemetery office (if one exists), with the cemetery caretaker, or at the local funeral home. If the cemetery is no longer active (does not allow new burials), the records may be housed at the courthouse, local library, or historical society. Cemeteries may have all or only some of these types of written records. They may also have different records for different time periods.
Many cemetery records have been indexed and microfilmed. There are thousands of cemetery indexes online. A few of Web sites that you will find indexes are: Cemetery Junction www.daddezio.com/cemetery; Find a Grave www.findagrave.com; Interment.net www.interment.net ; USGenWeb county sites <http://usgenweb.org>
The Family History Library has a large collection of cemetery records in their microfilm collection. The microfilm can be ordered from a local family history center for a minimal fee.
Gather all the cemetery records for your ancestors. You never know what you might discover.