|Introduction to Genealogy|
Other than a few records and documents and, perhaps, some family jewelry or heirlooms, your ancestor's tombstone is the only physical evidence of the life they lived. There is nothing in your genealogical research that will connect you to your ancestor more than to stand in the one place on earth which contains their mortal remains and to see important pieces of their life carved into stone. It is an amazing, awe-inspiring experience.
you write to and interview your family members, be sure to ask them about
locations where your ancestors are buried. Get names, location and even
directions to the specific tombstones, if possible. It can take hours to locate
a specific grave in a large cemetery if you do not know its exact location.
Tips for a Successful Visit to the Cemetery
- If the cemetery is not too large, and you
have enough time, it can be very helpful to make a complete transcription of
the cemetery. Even if you only make note of the names and dates on each
tombstone, along with their location in the cemetery, this can save you a
trip back in the future as well as help other researchers.
- Write down names, dates
and inscriptions exactly as they appear on the stone. It is very easy
to make assumptions in the excitement of the moment, and it will be very
beneficial to have an accurate record as you move forward (or backward as
the case may be!) with your research.
- Be sure to sketch any
symbols that you are unfamiliar with so that you can look them up later.
These symbols or emblems may be valuable clues to membership in an
organization which may have records about your ancestor.
- Make a note of the
relationship between tombstones as well. Family members will often be buried
together in the same plot. Nearby graves may belong to parents. Small
unmarked stones may indicate children that died in their infancy. Neighbors
and relatives may also be buried in adjoining sections.
- As you make your way
around, be sure not to miss the back of the stones as they can also contain
- Another good way to record cemetery
information is to use a cassette recorder or even a video camera as you move
around the cemetery. You can read off names, dates and inscriptions easily and make note of important information, such as when you
start a new row. It also provides you with a backup for any written
transcriptions that you have made.
- Pictures are worth a
thousand words and are much better for tombstones than chalk or shaving
cream. Use hand-held clippers to clear brush away from the stone and then
use a nylon (never wire) bristle brush and plain water to clean the stone
from bottom to top, rinsing well as you go. A bright sunny day and a mirror
to help reflect the sunlight on the stone can really help to bring out the
- Enjoy yourself! Visiting
cemeteries is one of the most rewarding parts of genealogy research, so stop
and take the time to commune with your ancestors.
- Take care when visiting abandoned cemeteries or those located on private property. Never enter private property without permission and never go unaccompanied to remote or dangerous areas. If the cemetery you will be visiting is located in a wooded location, you may also want to check with the appropriate state agency about the dates for hunting seasons.
For more information:
Through the Graveyard
A step-by-step guide to discovering your ancestors in cemeteries
Learn how to do a tombstone rubbing, cleaning and maintainance of cemeteries, the meaning of icons and symbols on gravestones, recording inscriptions, tips for transcribing cemeteries, taking good photographs and much more.
Next page > Citing Family Sources
Next page > Citing Family Sources