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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