Fill out facts on your family tree and more through a search of cemetery records.
You make your way across gloomy gravestones as deep shadows stretch across the somber cemetery. An eerie chill makes you shiver. Suddenly, you hear a noise behind you, and you turn your head to see the most frightening sight you’ve ever encountered—
Sound like a horror story? Would you be surprised to know that genealogy researchers often visit cemeteries?
In reality, cemeteries are not the dark, ominous places people might think. In fact, they are valuable resources for family history research, and cemetery records could be the key to filling a family tree with details and stories one never would have found through searching vital records.
Different Types of Cemetery Records
Cemetery records consist of all records related to cemeteries and burial, such as sexton’s records, burial registers, plot records, and plat maps.
A sexton is the official caretaker of a cemetery, and sexton’s records refer to burial registers that are kept by cemeteries. Any larger facility, like commercial or municipal cemeteries, will usually have a sexton or an office to take care of such records. Burial registers can also be found in almost any church that has an associated cemetery.
Burial registers and sexton’s records from different places may contain different information. Some simply contain the names of the people in the cemetery and when they were buried; others provide many details such as where such people lived, when they died, family relations, etc.
Importantly, such records can also help find the grave of an ancestor, and the information that can be found from the graves themselves can complement what information in burial registers.
A trip to the cemetery to look at both the sexton’s records and the gravestones of ancestors is a wonderful way to gather a lot of information that is impossible to find online.
Genealogical Resources at Cemeteries
What can be learned from gravestones? Gravestones can contain many types of information, such as maiden names, relationships, hometown, and records of military service, in addition to the birth and death dates. Some gravestones will contain inscriptions or even paragraphs about the deceased, which can—ironically—bring ancestors to life through hints at the stories of their lives.
What was this person like? How did others think of this person? When this person died, what was missed? Grave inscriptions can allude to the entire life and personality of the ancestor!
The organization of gravestones can also bring about surprising discoveries. Often, gravestones are arranged so that family members are buried near each other. Therefore, investigators may find themselves discovering long lost family members.
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Finding an Ancestor’s Cemetery
Cemetery records and gravestones can provide precious information that is unavailable anywhere else, and there is something about actually seeing the grave that is fulfilling in a way that paper records will never be able to do. However, the question arises, how could one find the ancestor’s cemetery in the first place?
Online resources are a great way of tracking down an ancestor’s cemetery. Obituaries and death records may contain information on a person’s burial, and there are many great online sites for searching for such vital records. There are also local as well as more large-scale websites, such as Interment.net, that are dedicated to compiling and uploading cemetery records.
Far from being the gloomy trip one might imagine, a voyage to an ancestor’s grave may be the chance to truly delve into an ancestor’s life history.