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Cemetery Research 101

Cemetery research can provide names and dates to fill in the gaps for your research. Going to a cemetery seems a straight-forward process, but there are several items to keep in mind when visiting one.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Karan Pittman
Word Count: 745 (approx.)
Labels: Cemetery 
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Cemetery research can provide names and dates to fill in the gaps for your research. Going to a cemetery seems a straight-forward process, but there are several items to keep in mind when visiting one. First and foremost, unless you are going to a cemetery in an urban area or large town, dress for the location. Small, rural cemeteries may not be kept well, and cemeteries out in the woods can take quite a bit of work to find. Wear protective clothing, especially if you are allergic to poison ivy or oak. Wear long sleeves, even in the summer if you are going into a wooded or scrubby area. You can get scratched easily without realizing it. Boots are a good idea, and so is a hat.

Take some bug spray and use it. Bugs don't care about your ancestors; they want you. Be sure to add sunscreen to the list. You don't need a sunburn when you find your missing link. If you are searching in a part of the country where snakes are prevalent, it may be helpful to have a walking stick or cane to shake the bushes in front of you.

It would be best, if you are visiting a rural or a remote area, to take somebody else with you. You never know what might happen. For all you know, you could be out in the field and sprain your ankle. A cell phone is a good idea, but you can't always get good reception. A partner is your best bet.

Always bring a notebook, pen and paper. Another item you want to be sure to carry to a cemetery is a camera. Take pictures of the graves of your ancestors as well as the surrounding graves. When a cemetery is in a remote location, you may not find it again. If the condition of the cemetery is not good, then the stones may not be there the next time you visit. Get it documented. Another good item to bring when you are searching for rural or remote cemeteries is garden shears. A good pair will trim away most of the growth that may be in the way.

When you are documenting the cemetery, be sure to list the type of cemetery. Is it a church cemetery? Is it a family plot? Is it a special type of cemetery? These are answers that will help you identify the place later.

Document the location of the cemetery. This takes on a particular significance in a rural location. It is best to take pictures of the cemetery as you approach it and to take pictures of the cemetery looking out in each direction. Write down the directions to the cemetery, and be sure to list the actual names of the roads, not just what they may be called locally. If you have a GPS device, get the latitude and longitude.

Once you arrive at the cemetery, document the location of the grave or graves. Be very specific. State that the grave is the third stone to the left of the entrance. Don't use trees or plants as landmarks as these may change over time. It may help to take pictures as you walk to the grave. That way you will have markers.

Draw a map of the grave site. Write down the details surrounding the grave. Are the graves facing east to west? Are the graves in straight rows or group haphazardly? Are the graves in family groupings? All of these observations are relevant and may help at a later point in time.

Take note of all the graves surrounding your ancestor. Write down the names, birth and death dates listed. These graves may provide clues. They may be relatives and later research will reveal their names. By going ahead and getting the information the first time you visit the cemetery, you may save yourself a lot of research and travel time and money.

Figure out what type of stone was used. If the grave stone is granite and has older dates, such as the 1830s, then you know the grave stone was put later. Thus, the dates may be or may not be accurate. Take note of the shape of the marker and if there are any symbols. Different markings may denote membership in organizations or military service.

Be sure to stand back and take note of the grave marker, the surroundings and the cemetery. You never know where a clue might be hidden that will help you in your genealogical search.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

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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