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How Cemetery Records Help Genealogy Research


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Type: Article
Prepared by: Steve Johnson
Word Count: 504 (approx.)
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Cemetery records and tombstone inscriptions are often used to confirm the burial location of one's ancestors and relatives. But they can also be used to provide clues towards tracing back a family history and genealogy.

Here are some tips on what information cemetery records can reveal...

  • Tombstone inscriptions often contain clues that sexton records do not provide. A sexton record is the official recording of a burial by the cemetery caretaker. By visiting the cemetery and looking at the tombstone, you can pick up additional information the sexton records do not record... Tombstone inscriptions will often say things like "Beloved Mother", "Cherished Brother", or "Loving Aunt", which indicates this person had children, siblings, or nieces and nephews. And tombstones will sometimes include symbols and abbreviations of local clubs and organizations, which means additional history and stories of this person might be found in the newsletters of such groups. If the person was in the military, they're likely to have a military tombstone, particularly because the US Government provides them free of charge. And these stones will provide the person's rank or classification, and their residence of record at the time they died.
  • Sexton records can be accessed by visiting the cemetery office, or by calling the office by phone. These records will provide the date the person was interred, and the contact person of record in charge of interring that person. It will also indicate who purchased the plot, if that person was someone other than the deceased. Many times, people purchase plots but end up being buried elsewhere. This often happens when a married couple purchases a double plot. This is a single plot dug deeper to hold two coffins. However, a widow or widower will often remarry, and when they die, are buried elsewhere. The sexton record will show that a double plot was purchased, and will also show if only one body or two are interred there. Thus, this can clue you in if a widow/widower remarried or moved away.
  • When visiting the grave of an ancestor, take a look at the tombstones on either side, or in front of, or behind. They often contain relatives. It's a good idea to photograph these tombstones and draw a map of their proximity to each other. You'll never know down the road if you discover these plots are related or not.
  • Take note of where in the cemetery someone is interred. Many cemeteries have sections reserved for specific groups. Some have Catholic sections, some have sections for specific ethnic groups, and others have sections for paupers and unclaimed bodies.
  • Many cemeteries are part of a district funded by property tax dollars. Only people living within that district are eligible to be interred there. So if you know someone is interred there, you can narrow down the location of where they lived at the time of their death.

Steve Johnson is known as the publisher of, a website that publishes cemetery records and tombstone transcriptions for genealogy research. He recently launched a new search engine for New York cemetery records:

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