You can learn a lot from the graves of your ancestors. But how do you find a cemetery grave? And what is there to do when you go to a cemetery?
Well, check out this post as I will answer these questions and also give you plenty of tips as well.
Let’s define some terms!
Within this post, I will occasionally refer to either a cemetery or a graveyard.
You will have heard of both of these terms but do you know that there is a difference between them?
What is the difference I hear you say?
- A cemetery is a large burial ground that is typically not associated with a church, whereas
- A graveyard is typically smaller in size and is often associated with a church.
Both though are places where you can find your loved ones buried.
There will usually be a stone with an inscription that can give you many clues. These clues can help you further with your genealogy research.
An interesting fact before we begin!
Before I continue with this post I just want to share with you an interesting fact that I recently found out.
Do you know why people are buried six feet under?
It all goes back to the time of The Great Plague of London that lasted from 1665 to 1666.
To stop the spreading of the bubonic plague, The Lord Mayor of London requested that all graves be buried to a minimum of six feet deep.
However, in actuality, this solution would prove to be ineffective.
Cemetery Day – June 18th
Yes, that’s right there is a day which you can set aside and visit your ancestors.
This is the perfect day for you to get in your car and visit the graves of your ancestors.
Although yes you can do this any day of the year. But why not visit a grave on this day as well?!
Please watch this!
The following 30-minute video from Ancestry will show you the potential of visiting cemeteries.
They can help you out a great deal with your genealogy research as you will learn from the video. As well as from this helpful post as well.
There is no point if you take photos and they just stay on your camera or phone.
What’s the point in that?!
So, take your time when you go home and sift through your photos and nitpick all that you can from them.
Afterwards, you may wish to go to another cemetery and find even more buried ancestors.
Discussed in this post:
- Before You Visit A Cemetery
- What To Bring For A Cemetery Visit
- What Information Can You Get From A Memorial?
- Find Death And Burial Records Online
After reading this post you may want to learn more about how you can get the most from cemetery research.
That is why I want to direct you to a post entitled 3 Genealogy Tips for Cemetery Research.
Written by Gena Philibert-Ortega you will learn how to look for the obvious, get the most from newspapers, and also how to survey the area.
Learning from Gena can help your research so I do highly recommend that you check out her post.
Before You Visit A Cemetery!
There is no point taking a long journey to a cemetery only to find that your ancestor isn’t even buried there. What a waste of time and money?
So, before you do make that visit there are a few questions that you need to consider.
Depending on the cemetery that you visit you might find that there are volunteer genealogists that can help you with your inquiries.
So, please check out first in what way the cemetery can help you.
It’s a good idea to check whether the cemetery has an office and if so whether they have a website as well.
From here you may be able to get the answers that you need before you make that trip.
What you need to ask:
- Is your ancestor buried at the cemetery?
- What records does the cemetery have?
- Does the grave have a stone with an inscription? And what condition is it in?
- Can the cemetery provide a copy of this information?
- And is a map of the graveyard available?
- Can I make an appointment? If you attend at a set time then someone will be there to help you get the most out of your visit.
- Is there a fee for all this information and make an appointment?
If you aren’t able to visit the cemetery for whatever reason then you can always ask if they can mail the information to you.
This information can include church records, memorial inscriptions, and also photographs as well.
Please note though that there will probably be a small fee for this service.
Why visit a cemetery?
I probably should have answered this at the start of the post. It is a very valid question considering that you can usually find what you want online.
But that is not always the case.
All sorts of records are currently digitized and can be found on genealogy sites. It is not uncommon though for errors to sneak into these digitized copies so it does help to visit the grave yourself.
Also, if there is some information not recorded but is on the stone then it does help to check.
And finally, every once in a while you want to get out of the house and visit where your ancestor once called home.
For me, it brings me closer to them, and I hope it does for you too.
Check out the local family history society!
Before I continue I do want to make another suggestion.
You could check out what information from the local family history society.
They may be of better use if the cemetery does not have an office or if there isn’t much information that they can give you.
The society should know the area very well, particularly the cemetery.
They will know what condition the cemetery is in and whether there are any hidden dangers, i.e. unstable tombstones, overgrown vegetarian, or any other danger.
What To Bring For A Cemetery Visit!
When it comes to a cemetery visit, you will want to be prepared. There is no point if you go all that way and find where your ancestors were buried only to have no way to record what you find.
Also, you may find that the cemetery is overgrown or the weather is poor. So, please prepare yourself for all conditions.
Bring a friend, or two!
If you want to make a day of it then bring along someone you know. It could be a family member or a close friend.
You can take someone with you to keep you company, but also they can be a great help to you as well. When you arrive at the cemetery why not split up.
This will save you time.
You could always bring your family as well. It’s an excellent activity for your loved ones to learn about your ancestors, all why you carry on with your research.
Proper footwear and clothing!
You don’t want to walk around a cemetery where the grass hasn’t been cut in a while. Or maybe it has recently been raining and it is very muddy.
That is why it’s important to bring with you the appropriate footwear.
If you are concerned with dirtying your car then you can always bring gumboots or walking boots and keep them in the back of your car.
As well as proper footwear you also want to bring the appropriate clothing or a change of clothes.
Unfortunately, you have to be prepared for different weather conditions.
It may be warm and sunny when you start on your journey. But when you get to the cemetery it may be raining and cold.
An umbrella is also a good idea to keep in the car as well.
Garden shears or secateurs and gloves!
Yes, that’s right you might need to bring some garden tools with you. If you haven’t got either of these then maybe ask a neighbor, a friend, or a family member for a tool.
Once you find the grave that you are looking for then you may need to do some cutting to take the photo that you want.
Unfortunately, there may not be regular maintenance at the cemetery you plan to visit.
So, you may face a cemetery with long weeds and grass.
Gloves are also a good idea to bring. You don’t want to be pricking yourself on a thorn.
Bag or a box!
If you do come across any growth around your ancestor’s grave then you will want to have somewhere to dispose of it.
You usually won’t find bins at any cemetery so it is a good idea to bring a bag or maybe a box for the clippings.
Also, even if there is a bin I don’t think it would be taken too kindly if you fill it up with this waste.
You may want to find a spot for it, but I feel if it is too much that you take it home.
You may sadly find litter around the grave. So it is always a good idea to bring a bag in case this is the case.
Hand brush and water!
When you do find the grave of your ancestors you may need to clean it up. This is besides the grass or weeds that you may need to remove from the grave.
A hand brush and a bottle of water are perfect if the grave is particularly muddy.
Cleaning up the memorial stone will help you when you take that much-needed photograph.
Please though do not bring with you a wire brush. This can damage the stone and will not help you to read the inscription.
Camera, pen, and paper!
Last but not least you will need to bring a camera with you.
You will need to keep a record of what you find.
A camera is useful because you can not only take a photo of the grave but also the whole cemetery or graveyard.
Taking several shots will help you to locate the grave the next time you visit.
And to record when you visited the grave is a good idea as well.
A pen and paper, (or notepad would be better), is a good idea as well.
You may find that when you get home and you look at the photo that you can’t read the inscription on the stone.
Trust me I know because that has happened to me. And that means yet another visit to the grave to get those details, again!
When the grave is tidy, photos have been taken, and you have got as much information as you can then why not leave some flowers.
It is a nice way to pay your respects to your ancestors. At least that’s what I think anyway.
If you are like me then you will want to walk around the grave and not stand on the grave.
I don’t think it’s respectful to be walking across your ancestor’s grave or anyone’s grave for that matter. That’s my personal opinion anyway.
What Information Can You Get From A Memorial?
The inscription on your ancestor’s gravestone can give you some much-needed clues. The information that you will find on the stone can help you to break down any brick wall that you encounter.
So, what can you learn from these inscriptions?
What information can you find out?
The information can vary from stone to stone.
And usually the more recent the burial then the more information can be found in the inscription.
Not only will you find information on the stone but the curb that runs around the grave.
This is also something to keep in mind when getting information about your ancestors.
- Name – This will usually include their full name, with maybe a middle name or a nickname as well.
- Relation – Often the stone will say who the person is related to, i.e husband or father of.
- Burial/death dates – Be careful not to mix the burial date for when your ancestor died. If you have a burial date then you can check a few days, or up to a week before for the death record.
- Age at death – Sometimes you won’t find a birth date, so the age at death can help you to track down when your ancestor was buried.
- Other family members – To save costs there may be more than one person in the grave. This will mean more than one inscription will be added to the stone. You can therefore find out other details about the family.
- Quote – Not particularly helpful when it comes to giving you clues for your genealogy research. But regardless it is something to note.
What if the grave has no memorial?
Not all graves will have a gravestone. It may just be a simple wooden cross.
And the reason for this was probably because the family was too poor to purchase a stone.
If that is the case then you can always check the church records to see what information was recorded at the time of burial.
What if you cannot find your ancestor?
Often you will find a married couple buried together. But this is not always the case.
Take for example my 3rd great-grandfather John Waters who was a seaman. He was not buried with his wife in South Wales, but in Newcastle in the north of England.
There are a few examples of my ancestors not buried with their partners.
Sometimes you may find that your ancestor may be buried with their children. So it is worth checking each family member’s graves as well.
Find Death and Burial Records Online!
If you cannot visit a grave for whatever reason then please check out these websites.
Each of these I have used in the past and they have helped me greatly find those little clues to move me forward with my research.
Ancestry and FindMyPast
Both of these are very popular genealogy search websites and have been a great help to me.
They contain billions of records that include birth and marriage records, immigration records, passenger lists, wills, and so on.
And they also have death and burial records as well. Very useful to help you to track down where your ancestors were buried.
You will need to have a paid subscription to these sites to access these records.
Even though you will need to hand over money there is more of a chance to find what you want from these two sites.
If you cannot find your ancestor when you search their databases I do suggest that you try alternate spellings of their name.
This tip has proved quite useful for me in the past.
Hosted by the Church of Latter-Day Saints is a free collection of grave records that date from 1500 to 2013.
It is a limited resource compared to FindAGrave, but it is certainly worth for you to check out.
Besides, you may find other useful records about your ancestors on this site.
You can search their database by entering your ancestor’s first and last name. To make your search more successful you can search by a life event, such as a birth or marriage.
You can also enter the name of a spouse, parent, or other relation to help you find your ancestor.
This is a free website where you can find photos of your ancestors’ graves. These photos have been submitted by volunteers and there are millions for you to search through.
It may be a bit hit and miss but it is worth checking first before you set off in your car.
For me, though I still like to visit the site if it is hundreds of miles away then this service is very useful.
You can search for your ancestor based on their first, middle, or last name, year of birth and when died, and also the location of the cemetery.
The more details that you enter will help you find the grave that you are after.
Thank You and Please Leave A Comment
I hope you enjoyed this post showing you how to find a cemetery grave and what to do once you are there. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.
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