Cemeteries are not only a rich source of genealogical information, but they can also offer us an intimate connection with our ancestors. Tombstones often provide dates, birth places, maiden names, names of spouses and parents. They may also yield information regarding military service and religious affiliation. Keep in mind that nearby graves may lead to the discovery of other relatives. Often small unmarked stones are the only source for an ancestor who died as an infant. Also, if you notice flowers on a grave, it may lead you to living descendants!
Locating where your ancestor is buried can be difficult. Obituaries, wills and death records often list funeral homes you can try to contact. Local directories are useful in finding contact information for funeral homes. Check the records of the church your ancestor attended. These records may contain dates and a place of burial. You can take advantage of online cemetery resources as well.
Before your visit, make sure you are well prepared for your excursion. Since many older cemeteries are not regularly maintained, proper attire is key. Long sleeves and jeans/pants will help protect you from overgrown shrubs and insects. Put together a small kit to take with you, including supplies for taking notes, a set of garden tools to clear away grass and branches, water, rags, and a camera.
At the Cemetery
When you first arrive, visit the cemetery’s office (if the cemetery has an office). You may wish to call ahead to ask if you can search through their records. These records will often include burial registers, plat maps and plot records. The caretaker may also help you locate your ancestor’s plot.
You may need to clear away any overgrown or wild vegetation from the tombstone. Clean off any dirt with some water and a rag. Be sure to record exactly what is written on your ancestor’s tombstone and take note of any symbols or images etched into the marker. And don’t forget to take pictures!