The first step to using cemetery records is to figure out which one(s) to research and contact. In many cases,
an older relative might be able to tell you where the family was traditionally buried, but you have plenty of options if
you are not so fortunate. Death certificates, obituaries, death notices, and wills are all good starting points to try
to identify the cemetery. Even if the cemetery isn't listed, there's a reasonable chance that the funeral home will
be. In this case, you can contact the funeral home and ask for your ancestor's record in order to pinpoint the
correct cemetery. Another option is to contact the church which your ancestor attended. The church may
have records or simply be able to tell you where most of their members have generally been buried.
If you still can't find any concrete evidence, but have a general idea that your ancestor was buried in a
particular town or city, there are other tactics you can try. A search of the
Family History Library Catalog by locality and/or subject
may reveal some promising candidates. In some cases, you may be able to borrow microfilmed copies of the
cemetery's records and review them yourself. This is especially useful in identifying family groups.
Another alternative is to check the American Blue Book of Funeral Directors (try your local library or genealogical
society), which lists the names of cemeteries by location. Barring any other clues (e.g., your ancestor's religion),
start with the ones closest to where your ancestor lived. Write or call them and ask for a copy of your relative's
record. If you receive no response, consider contacting a
genealogical or historical society or library in that area for assistance.
If you still have no luck, it might be worth hiring a professional in the area, or better yet, planning a
genealogical field trip to go search the cemetery yourself.
Sometimes there are situations where you actually have a cemetery name, but have no clue where it is located.
A search on online phone books may help here, especially if it's still an active cemetery. If you still have some
relatives in the area, call them and network until you find someone who can answer your question. A few calls
to local churches, genealogical societies, or funeral homes may turn up your answer as well.
If you're the impatient sort, you might want to try an online search of the
Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)
This database has more than 2,000,000 features, including cemeteries - all around the United States.
If your cemetery is listed (older, disused ones may not appear), you'll be able to find its coordinates and print
out a map of its location. This can be a useful item to take on any genealogical field trips you might be planning.
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Yet another option is to search published sources. Traditionally, this has meant books of
tombstone transcriptions which generous individuals or societies have
taken it upon themselves to record. In many cases, they have recorded inscriptions from stones which no longer
exist or whose words have been worn off with time. One such organization, featured in this episode, is the
Derbyshire Ancestral Research Group. Once again, contacting local and
state libraries and genealogical societies may lead you to some of these invaluable resources.
Increasingly, these collections of records are being uploaded and made available for searching on the Internet.
Probably the best known of these is the USGenWeb's Tombstone Transcription Project. Thanks to the many
volunteers who have contributed to this and other similar sites, there are now literally millions of tombstone
inscription records from around the world ready for your viewing. To learn about some of the most significant ones, see the
An even more recent innovation is the introduction of
photobase sites which allow you to search or contribute actual photos of tombstones. In many cases, these
photobases also include the contact information for the submitter, so you may even find a distant relative who is searching these online transcriptions. You might also want to consider purchasing one of the commercially available
CDs with such data.
Types of Cemetery Records
Cemetery records can come in a variety of forms, but they generally originate from one of two sources:
tombstone inscriptions and cemetery or sexton's records.