“Locating Your Family in Cemeteries” Excerpt from July 2018 Magazine 2

Each month I have the great opportunity to learn from our writers while I edit and proof the magazine. I was inspired by this article from Cheri Hudson Passey and wanted to share this excerpt with you. I hope that you find a gem within and decide to subscribe to the magazine.


Locating the burial sites of your ancestors can be a thrilling experience. Visiting their graves can bring a sense of connection and help to gather important information on their lives and those of their families.

Finding Places of Burial

Several documents can give clues as to where your ancestor may be buried. Death certificates, funeral home records, and obituaries are good places to begin looking for names of burial locations. Contacting other descendants, especially those who live in the area your person of interest lived in may lead you to the correct cemetery.

When there is no information pointing to where a person is buried, a search of Internment.net, Findagrave.com or Billiongraves.com may lead to them. If you are not familiar with these websites, it is time to try them out! Each has a set of volunteers who inventory cemeteries around the world taking photos of headstones if available and transcribing birth deaths and burials from the stones themselves and any cemetery information that may be extant.

Find your ancestor but no headstone? Request a photo to be taken by one of the volunteers. If there is one there, someone will visit the cemetery, take a photo and upload it to the site.

Like all information found on the internet, these sites can have information posted that is incorrect or misleading. You have the responsibility to do further research to make sure the data is correct.

Other places to look online are the USGenWeb sites for your area of interest, local historical and genealogical societies who may have listings of cemeteries.

Many countries have similar sites. A google search can lead you to them.

Look at a map to discover the churches and cemeteries in the location. Google them to see if they have information online that may help you. If not, a phone call or email may be needed to ask for a lookup for your person’s name in their cemetery.

A word of caution.  Your ancestor may be buried in a particular cemetery, but at the time of burial, no records were kept. Asking the records office will result in no such person being found. You may need to walk the cemetery to see if you can find them by viewing the headstones. No headstone does not mean they were not buried there either. The family either did not have the money to pay for one, or it has been destroyed over time. You may only be able to deduce your where your ancestor may have been buried from the other graves surrounding an empty one.

Many local genealogical societies and other groups inventory area cemeteries and transcribe the headstones. They then compile the data into a book. Some are available online and others through libraries and the society. Cemetery Survey books can be very helpful. Depending on the date of the survey, you may find a headstone recorded that has since been removed, destroyed or is unreadable. If there is more than one book completed for the cemetery in question, make sure you look at all of them. Time can change what they were able to see as they walked the cemetery and transcription errors can be uncovered from book to book.

Be sure to read the introduction page. Some take their information from what they viewed at the grave site and supplement from church records or add their own “personal knowledge” of the person buried in a plot.

Unless this personal information can be proved by knowing who gave it and if they had documentation to back it up, it is highly unreliable.

St. Phillip’s Church Cemetery, Charleston, SC

For instance, my great great grandmother Martha Dority is buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Spring Hill, Sumter, South Carolina. The grave next to hers in empty. All efforts to check church records and other documents have resulted in no proof of her husband being buried next to her. There is a grave with no headstone, and common sense makes me believe that he is, but with no evidence, I can not say it for sure. One cemetery book from the area includes his name as being buried in the plot next to his wife. The name of an informant is listed next to this information. While admitting there is no stone, he added his thought that William A Dority is buried next to his wife. Unfortunately, there is no contact information or documentation stating why he believes so.


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About Jennifer Alford

Jennifer Alford is a writer, artist, and genealogy professional specializing in research in Jewish genealogy and the Midwest. As the owner of Jenealogy (www.jenalford.com) she creates engaging family history treasures to enhance the bond between generations. The love of photography, storytelling, and history combine in her blog and unique products. As part of The In-Depth Genealogist's Leadership Team, Jen is Publisher of IDG's monthly magazine, Going In-Depth.

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