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Going To The Grave - Part I - Finding Cemeteries

Locating the grave of just one ancestor can lead the intrepid researcher to an enormous amount of new information if it turns out that several other members of the family have been buried in the same plot.


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Type: Article
Prepared by: Bob Brooke
Word Count: 519 (approx.)
Labels: Cemetery 
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Old cemeteries are great storehouses of genealogical data. Locating the grave of just one ancestor can lead the intrepid researcher to an enormous amount of new information if it turns out that several other members of the family have been buried in the same plot.

To find out where to locate plots of ancestors, begin with relatives. If that fails, possibly the ancestor's death certificate will yield the name of the cemetery in which the person is buried.

If there are no other leads, but the approximate date and place of death are known, check with the local historical society to see what cemeteries were operating at the time and begin checking their records. Another place to check for cemetery listings is the yellow pages. For those cemeteries that have ceased operation, again check with the local historical society which may have preserved their records.

Finding a cemetery can be a challenge. While the big, important cemeteries in large towns and cities can be found in the yellow pages of phone directories, not all people lived in cities. In addition to urban cemeteries, rural churchyards customarily contain the graves of members of that church. There are also military cemeteries for soldiers and important political figures, as well as privately owned cemeteries where lots can be purchased for a fee from a corporation that cares for the graves. There are even family plots set in meadows on an ancestor's farm when transportation was difficult. Many of these are now abandoned--overgrown with trees and weeds.

Unfortunately, not every grave has a stone marker. Many people have been buried with nothing to mark the place and with no public or private record made of their passing. Also, burial records are often nonexistent for the 17th to the early 19th century. If no cemetery records can be found, perhaps church records will reveal some information on a departed ancestor.

The interments found in church records were made either by the minister who officiated at the burial service or by the sexton who had charge of the burial site in the churchyard. Ministers often kept their own private burial records. Sextons kept records of the graves they dug and who was buried in them. Churchyard records generally contain the name and age of the deceased, and sometimes the relationship to others in the community. There may even be a record of a nonmember husband or wife, buried beside his or her spouse who was a church member.

Families tend to bury all members close to each other. This was done originally in expectation of Resurrection Day when they hoped that they would arise together as a spiritual body. Stones for unknown children, unmarried cousins, aunts or uncles, faithful servants, can often verify or add names not found elsewhere.

These latter cemeteries, and the old churchyards where the church no longer exists, can frequently be the most rewarding, if they can be found. Drastic changes in land use have caused many private family burial grounds to disappear under new roads, parking lots and subdivisions. Very often the growth of towns wiped out whole burial areas before the states passed laws protecting them.

Source Information: Everyday Genealogy, 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.

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