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Visiting Cemeteries Even When There's No Funeral!

Many times Internet research provides information on a cemetery's existence and perhaps a cemetery survey or listing. Then it's time to seek and find! Online cemetery surveys, while very helpful, are basically "snapshots" in time. In lieu of an obituary on a more recently deceased family member(s), an actual visit to their final resting place is a viable recourse to garner information.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Teresa Hilburn
Word Count: 566 (approx.)
Labels: Cemetery 
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One of the things I love about genealogy is the research. And one of the things I love about research is the flexibility. After a day (or sometimes days) of sitting at the computer chasing an online ancestral trail, I trade my laptop for my SUV and begin my quest of tracking down a new cemetery in search of ancestral documentation. Many times Internet research provides information on a cemetery's existence and perhaps a cemetery survey or listing. Then it's time to seek and find! Weekends find me bumping along dusty rural roads—checking my county map to see how close I am to my quarry—a new cemetery!

Online cemetery surveys, while very helpful, are basically "snapshots" in time. Many were submitted several years ago and have not subsequently been updated. In lieu of an obituary on a more recently deceased family member(s), an actual visit to their final resting place is a viable recourse to garner information. Also, cemetery surveys are often alphabetical—great for finding an individual name quickly, but limiting when attempting to identify members of the same family. Here's a personal example of a cemetery visit, resulting in a wealth of family information based simply on the location of gravesites. Recently, through an obituary online, I discovered an elusive ancestor's burial location. Further research located the cemetery listing (in alphabetical order) — also online. Although there were several folks with my ancestor's last name included in the listing, I had no way to determine if they were also our family members. A cemetery visit was definitely in order. After tracking down the cemetery's location, I was thrilled to find not only the gravesite of the ancestor I knew was buried there, but also gravesites for her four children, their spouses, and three of her grandchildren. How did I know they were the same family? They were buried side by side in the same row with verifying information on their headstones. Without actually visiting the cemetery, I would not have been able to fill in the gaps on that particular family tree branch.

One caution — be prepared! Many of my friends think I'm nuts, as I've been known to be out and about with my straw hat and water bottle in 100-degree heat and yellow-slickered with my umbrella in a monsoon. My recommendations include: appropriate seasonal clothing; spray water bottle and soft brush (no harsh or abrasive cleaners) for cleaning headstones; mosquito repellent in warm weather; area map; cell phone; digital camera (a picture's worth . . . ) and, most of all, good common sense. Church and larger public cemeteries are generally open to the public, but always ask permission before visiting a private cemetery located on someone's property. Also, use simple caution when trekking those unknown back roads. There may be safety in numbers, but if you're searching alone (and I actually prefer meandering by myself), make sure someone knows where you're going and keep your cell phone handy.

I'm fortunate that many of my ancestors came to the area where I now live, over 200 years ago. That equates to a plethora of cemeteries in close proximity still left for me to visit and many pleasant weekend adventures. Consider this a personal invitation to join me in spirit this weekend and explore your family tree in a local cemetery. No need to wait for a funeral and you just might find that elusive ancestor.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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