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Tiptoeing Through the Graveyard

How to Locate a Cemetery


The first step in cemetery research is the obvious one - you need to learn where your ancestor is buried. Death records will often contain this information, as will obituaries. Published cemetery surveys may list your ancestors. You should also be sure to not overlook family members - they will often know of family burial locations or may be able to track down a mention on a mass or prayer card or in the family Bible.

Funeral Home & Religious Records

Funeral homes and morticians can be great allies in helping you to locate cemetery records. Funeral records may still exist which can contain a wealth of information, including the burial location. Funeral directors will have knowledge of most cemeteries in their area, and may also be able to point you to family members. If a funeral home is no longer in business, then check with other area funeral homes as they may know where the old records are located.

If you know your ancestor's religious affiliation you may want to try contacting the church in the area where your ancestor lived. Churches often maintain attached cemeteries and also keep records for their members who are buried elsewhere.

Turn to the Locals

The local genealogical or family history society is a good source for information on local cemeteries. These groups are continually working to preserve valuable cemetery information and may have compiled cemetery indexes or be able to provide clues to little known burial locations, especially family cemeteries. Old local histories can also prove useful in identifying former names and locations for cemeteries which have been moved.

Cemeteries Online

The Internet is fast becoming a valuable source for cemetery records as well. Many sites offer links to online cemetery records or you can use your favorite search engines to search for a specific cemetery. Special geographic place name search engines can also help to locate a cemetery, though the information available on the Internet varies widely by country. The U.S. Geographic Names Information Server, for example, allows you to narrow down your search by selecting cemetery as the feature type.

Map Your Way to the Cemetery

If you have narrowed down the area, but aren't sure which cemetery may contain your ancestor, then maps can be of great assistance. Use land, tax or census records to help you pinpoint your ancestor's land on a map. You will often find them buried in a nearby cemetery, or even in a family cemetery on their own property. Topographic maps or locality maps may show cemeteries, roads, houses and farms. Even little details such as elevation features can be useful as cemeteries were often erected on high ground.

Next > What to Take When You Visit the Cemetery

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