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Cemeteries - Not just for tombstones anymore!

Many write about visiting old cemeteries to find information on ancestors and how to take rubbings of stones, the best way to photograph them, etc. But, what if your ancestors don't have tombstones? Many could not afford one. Is that information lost forever? NO!


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
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Word Count: 694 (approx.)
Labels: Cemetery  Death Record 
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Recently, a client of mine wanted some photos of tombstones at a nearby cemetery. I thought this would only take a few minutes and trotted off to the cemetery. Armed with a map of the cemetery, the section number of the graves I was looking for, and my digital camera I thought I knew exactly where I needed to go in this rather large cemetery. After driving and tramping around for almost an hour, I realized I needed help!

Most larger cemeteries have an office located at the cemetery or, if not, a phone number for a manager or caretaker that will help you. Fortunately, this particular cemetery had an office, so I went in an inquired where I was going wrong in locating the graves I was looking for. After another look around, it was back to the office, and the secretary gave me the name of the people in a nearby lot so that I would have a reference point. Back to the section, and I discovered why I couldn't find the graves I was seeking—there were NO tombstones whatsoever on this fairly large plot!

So now what? Don't give up! There may be a wealth of information available to you from that very office manager or caretaker where you got directions. Whether there is a tombstone or not, find the person that keeps the records for the cemetery and ask to see the "interment book" and "lot maps" for the ancestors you are seeking.

Internment or burial records typically give the name of the deceased, date of birth, date of death and date of interment. But they may also give parents names, next of kin, cause of death, last residence, and funeral home!

Lot maps show a drawing of every grave in a given plot, showing the exact position of each grave, who is buried there, who owns the plot, lot, section and grave numbers and whether or not there is perpetual care.

A couple of days ago I received some copies of interment records and a lot map that I had requested of the cemetery in which my third great-grandmother is buried. Born in Germany, Rose came in the U. S. after the death of her first husband (my third great-grandfather). Rose was not an ancestor that I had researched very much in the past, so the only things I knew about her were her year of death and possible names for her father and mother, but nothing about siblings or other relatives. What a gold mine of information I received from the cemetery! There are 13 other people buried in the same plot as Rose—all probable relatives—with whom I was unfamiliar. With just this one piece of information, I now have several leads into research on Rose's family and, hopefully, ancestors back into Germany.

If the cemetery you are interested in does not have an office or at least a phone number posted, don't think the records cannot be found. I have seen complete copies of the interment books and lot maps in local libraries. If the cemetery is affiliated with a church, then inquire there for interment records. Catholic cemeteries typically keep wonderful records and may have a cemetery association that keeps them.

Even if you can't visit the cemetery in person, it is worth doing some digging to find the name and address of the cemetery and/or the person in charge. There is a book, which many larger libraries carry, called United States Cemetery Address Book by James and Elizabeth Kot, which is a directory of cemeteries by state, with address and zip code. A Google search for the name of the cemetery, plus town and state should get you the information, also. If you can't find the name of a person, just send a letter of inquiry and address it to the cemetery. Most post offices will make sure it gets to the correct person. Don't forget to send a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope (LSASE).

Even if your ancestor has a tombstone, track down the interment records and lot maps. You may be pleasantly surprised by the information you can find, and do a genealogy happy dance!

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

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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