click to view original photo

Survey a Cemetery — Preserve Our Past

If you're grateful every time you find an ancestor's gravestone information in an online cemetery listing, consider this — virtually every cemetery listing was surveyed and the gravestones transcribed by a volunteer,folks who want to help others by recording, and thereby preserving, cemetery inscriptions while making them available worldwide.

Share

Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Teresa Hilburn
Word Count: 535 (approx.)
Labels: Death Record 
Short URL:

I just submitted my 15th cemetery survey to the local historical society for inclusion on its web site. If, like me, you're grateful every time you find an ancestor's gravestone information in an online cemetery listing, consider this — virtually every cemetery listing you find online was surveyed and the gravestones transcribed by a volunteer, folks who want to help others in their genealogical quests by recording, and thereby preserving, cemetery inscriptions while making them available worldwide. On more than one occasion, someone in another region of the country has seen my name attached to an online cemetery listing and emailed me a "thank you" for surveying and listing online a particular cemetery in which he or she found an ancestor's gravesite. How gratifying to know you've helped someone a thousand miles away!

Surveying a cemetery and transcribing the gravestones is not as difficult as it was just a few years ago. My first cemetery survey was only finished after several jaunts to the cemetery, painstakingly handwriting the inscriptions from each gravestone, and later struggling to decipher my scribbling. Now, when I survey a cemetery, I take digital photos of each gravestone and transcribe the inscriptions from the photos — enlarging, darkening or lightening to clarify — by entering the information into a document. My preference is to alphabetize the survey listing while also indicating if two people share the same marker (e.g., husband and wife). With an alphabetical listing, indicating two people have the same marker can be quite helpful to researchers in identifying members of the same family. I include pertinent birth, death, marriage and military information as well as any family notations (e.g., brother, father, uncle). When surveying a small cemetery, I include complete epitaphs and a listing of the gravestone inscriptions in order, in addition to an alphabetical listing. Then I make a final trip back to the cemetery and "walk the rows" checking to ensure I didn't skip a grave, make any corrections and, voila, e-mail the completed survey to the historical society web site manager.

If you decide you may want to consider volunteering your time to survey a cemetery, the U.S. GenWeb Tombstone Transcription Project web site provides a plethora of information and is a must read: http://www.rootsweb.com/~cemetery/#poem.

And, following are a few caveats for the novice cemetery surveyor:

  • Ask permission from the appropriate person/church, etc. before beginning a cemetery survey.
  • Digital photos are a wonderful resource for use in transcribing gravestone inscriptions, but for privacy (and possibly legal) reasons, delete gravestone photos when you've completed the cemetery survey.
  • Be respectful of the cemetery and the gravestones. Use only water in a spray bottle and a very soft cloth/brush to clean a gravestone for reading—other materials could cause damage, particularly to older stones.

A FINAL NOTE: After discovering some years ago that the cemetery in which two sets of my great-grandparents were buried — 20 miles from my home — was not online, I made the decision to survey that one cemetery and thought that would be the end of it. It was hot, dirty, time-consuming hard work, and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT! Now, eight years later, my 15th cemetery survey is just finished, and there's always one more waiting. . . .

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

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.

<< GenWeekly

<< Helpful Articles