It’s October and before long it will be October 31st, Halloween. A time of ghosts, goblins and other spooky things like cemeteries and tombstones.
It’s no secret to anyone who knows me–I love cemeteries. But not because they scare me. They’re peaceful places and they can provide a wealth of family history information.
Cemeteries can tell us much about our families and so it is important to know where our ancestors are buried. However, finding these last resting places can sometimes be a real challenge. When trying to determine the cemetery for an ancestor, start with family sources.
Gather information such as where they lived, where they attended church, and cemeteries where other family members are buried.
Family sources like bible records, funeral cards, newspapers clippings, and oral traditions could give the name of the cemetery.
If the cemetery can’t be found in family sources, try public records. Most death certificates have the name and location of the cemetery.
Newspaper sources such as death notices, obituaries and burial permit notices generally name the place of burial. Check every newspaper in the area where the person died, including the county and ethnic newspapers. An obituary or death notice could also have been published in the place where a close relative lived.
Church records can help in the cemetery search since many denominations keep a death or interment register which names the cemetery. Some churches have their own cemetery. Coroner and mortuary records would also have the place of burial.
Many cemeteries have been transcribed or indexed by individuals or local genealogy societies. Usually these indexes are published either in book form or on the internet. Denver Public Library has a good collection of book indexes. Local libraries usually have copies of published indexes for the cemeteries in their area. A few places to check on the internet for indexes and cemetery locations are:
When the name and location is found, a visit to the cemetery is a good idea. During the visit, make a written record of the location of the cemetery, location of the family graves within the cemetery, and the exact inscription on the tombstones. Not every grave will have a tombstone. Cemeteries usually have written records but, in some cases, these records have been lost or destroyed. If records still exist, they may be located at the cemetery office onsite. If there is no office, they could be housed elsewhere. I have found them at local funeral homes, nearby churches, sexton homes, town halls, and courthouses.
The most common records kept by cemeteries are alphabetical card file, interment book which is a chronological record, diagram book which is a drawing of individual lots showing all burials, and lot books which record ownership for each lot. The information you may find in the records is date and place of birth, names of parents, spouses and children, mother’s maiden name, date and place of death, occupation, relationship to the lot owner, military service with name of unit, and date of settlement in the community.
If you are unable to visit the cemetery in person, write and request the records. Ask for copies of every type of record they have. You could find other ancestors or members of their families by carefully examining these different types of records.
When the cemetery is found, it’s well worth the time and trouble. Usually a cemetery record is used to support other sources such as birth and death certificates, but in some instances, it may be the only record of our ancestor’s birth or death.