A visit to the cemetery is usually the culmination of some extensive research and an examination of vital records. Old graveyards allow genealogists and other researchers to take gravestone photographs and rubbings, locate new relatives and ancestors and discover birth or death dates. Some planning beforehand goes a long way in uncovering new information about an ancestor. Start by compiling everything known about relatives in a particular cemetery. Contact the cemetery to inquire about visiting hours. Bring a camera along to take photos of the graves and plenty of paper to record all the details you discover.
Begin by doing a search online for grave and cemetery information. Many genealogy and historical societies have cemetery databases and transcriptions available for free. Resources like FindAGrave.com also provide old graveyard information, often with a photograph of the grave.
Identify which relatives are buried, and which relatives may be buried, at these cemeteries. Create a list sorted by surname that includes surname, first name, birth date and death date. Add an additional field for notes, if necessary. Print a family tree and family group sheets for relatives listed. It is always better to have too much information, rather than not enough.
After you’ve chosen a graveyard to visit, check to see if there are other cemeteries in the vicinity that can be visited during the same research trip. Gather addresses and directions to these additional cemeteries.
Pack notes, worksheets, maps and directions to the cemeteries, along with a digital camera and extra batteries, in a bag. In another bag, pack water, sunscreen, a hat, hand-sanitizing wipes and snacks.
Exploring a cemetery can be very time-consuming, especially when the graves are not well marked. Take a few plastic bags, gloves and a shovel with to clear sunken grave stones. Most cemeteries mow the grass but do not have the staff to continually remove debris from flat stones.
You may not always locate grave stones. Some will be so old they have sunk into the ground and are covered, while others may not have been there to begin with. When asking a cemetery employee about a grave location, find out if there is a stone or monument on the site.
Complete a worksheet to document each graveyard’s information and include photographs when possible.
By Jennifer Holik-Urban
Jennifer Holik-Urban is a professional genealogist. You can visit her website at Family History Research.