Cemetery Deeds: They’re Land Records Too

Timeless Territories

a monthly column by Michelle Goodrum

Fall, Cemetery

One thing genealogists do with great regularity is locate where their ancestors are buried. Many a researcher has spent hours tromping through cemeteries looking for tombstones or allowing their fingers to do the walking by searching online at sites such as Find A Grave (http://www.findagrave.com/ ). When the deceased is buried, usually a plot is purchased and records like deeds or a bill of sale are created. Ignoring these records could mean overlooking important clues to your research.

So, why look for cemetery deeds in your research? Here are a few reasons:

  • Cemetery deeds, and related records, can help you locate the actual gravesite where the person of interest is buried or interred.
  • These records indicate who purchaser and seller are. Often the purchaser is a family member.
  • They also will tell you how much was purchased. This is an important clue because it can tell you whether or not there may be other relatives buried near your ancestor.

Who creates the records? Since this is a business transaction, the buyer who is likely a family member, and the seller, likely a cemetery or other organization that handles the burials, would create the deed, bill of sale, and related documents.

Where might these be records be found? First, don't overlook personal family papers. Business transactions involving deeds are documents people tend to hang onto. Second, since we are dealing with land and property, the deed probably was recorded with the county recorder, clerk, auditor, or whoever has jurisdiction in the locality of interest. Third, the cemetery office also has records. Whether or not the records you are interested in still exist, or whether the office is willing to share them with you is another matter. Still it’s worth asking.

You might be thinking to yourself, “I only need to know where my ancestor is buried. I don't need to worry about all this other stuff." Taking this tact could cause you to miss out on important information in your genealogical quests. The answer to the question you haven’t thought of yet, is the answer that’s probably in these documents. If you have the opportunity, now is the time to obtain that information because over time records can be lost or destroyed.

Let's look at an example. A transcript of the original cemetery deed used in this example can be found at the end of this article. I didn’t include a copy of the original because it’s extremely difficult to read due to its age. Here we go.


On 10 June 1881, Nancy A. Robinson purchased from the Columbia Lodge in Boulder, Colorado, Lot 29 in Block B of Columbia Lodge Cemetery. She paid ten dollars. While the deed does say who the buyer and seller was and where the property was located, it doesn’t say who is buried there. If you were to go to Lot 29 in Block B of what today is called Columbia Cemetery, you would only find one marker (and a family member who was buried years before Nancy purchased the lot). So you wouldn’t necessarily find out who is buried by visiting the cemetery either. It is only by digging deeper in the records and by researching the purchaser, Nancy Robinson, that you would discover a total of 5 individuals buried in this lot. Those individuals are Nancy’s siblings (John, Landon W. and Virginia E. Ballinger), Nancy’s daughter (Georgia Lucinda Robinson) and husband (Daniel A. Robinson). Four of them died before Nancy ever purchased this lot. In this case, piecing this information together helped in the reconstruction of a family of 13 children, whose names had mostly been lost to time.


Hopefully, you are beginning to see there are many types of land records that can be used in many different ways. The record groups genealogists use tend to be interrelated as well. By looking at cemetery deeds and other related records, you will have more success in filling out your family tree.



Cemetery Deed to Nancy A. Robinson From Columbia Lodge



No 01[?]2301[?]


Columbia Lodge No 14 AE&AM


Nancy A Robinson

Filed June 10th AD 1881

at 4 oclock P.M.

W H Laws Recorder


Know all Men by these Presents That Columbia Lodge

No 14 AE and M for the sum of Ten ($10 00/100) Dollars to said

Lodge paid by Nancy A Robinson hath bargained and

sold and by these presents doth bargain, sell, convey

and confirm unto the said Nancy A Robinson and

her heirs and assigns forever the following described

lot or parcel of land for the burial of the dead situate in the County

of Boulder and Territory of Colorado to wit: Lot number Twenty nine

(29) in Block (B) in Columbia Lodge Cemetery according to the

recorded plat thereof together with rights privileges and appur

tenances thereunto belonging and the said Lodge doth hereby

covenant to Warrant and Forever Defend the title to said prem

ises to the said Nancy A Robinson her heirs and Assigns Forever

In Witness Whereof The said Lodge hath said[?] their presents to

to[sic] be signed by the W.M. and Secretary and the seal there of

to be offered this Tenth day of June AD 1881



Lodge Seal



F Phillips WM

Henry Drunorw[?]





Boulder County. Colorado. Book 60: Pages 506-507, Columbia Lodge #14 AE & AM to Nancy A. Robinson, cemetery deed, 10 June 1881; Boulder County Recorder, Boulder.


 © Michelle Goodrum 2012

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of The In-Depth Genealogist. Receive The In-Depth Genealogist free by subscribing HERE.