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Using Cemetaries for Genealogical Research

Cemeteries can be an important resource for gathering genealogical information. Tombstone inscriptions and plot placement s can lead to new information about your ancestors.

Tombstones sometimes tell more than just a name and date of death. They can also include valuable genealogical information, including a birth date and place, a maiden name (sometimes listed as a middle name), name of a spouse or parents, and military involvement.

Plot placement can also be important to note. When visiting an ancestor’s gravesite, be sure to look at nearby tombstones. You may discover the burial locations of other ancestors, or even ancestors you had not known about previously.

Burial locations can be found on a few types of records. Certificates of death often say which cemetery a person is buried in, as well as the date of burial. However, they don’t state the exact plot location. You may find a burial permit, which lists the plot location, filed with the death certificates, but this is unlikely. You will have better luck contacting the cemetery sexton (caretaker), who keeps meticulous records of who is buried and where.

Large cities and towns may list sexton information in the phone book, although this is not always true for small towns. If the sexton is not listed in the phone book, ask local residents or the town clerk for contact information. There may also be a sign at the cemetery, listing contact information for the sexton.

Online cemeteries (also called virtual cemeteries), such as FindAGrave.com or Interment.net, may also list the burial location of your ancestor. Volunteers contribute to these sites, adding tombstone transcriptions, plot locations, and even photographs. You could even request a photograph of a tombstone, if it is too far away for you to visit.

There are several types of cemeteries: public, family, church, and national.

Public cemeteries are owned by the town, and burial records are accessible to the public. Most public cemeteries are maintained, using taxpayer’s money, but some cemeteries are abandoned, and therefore no longer maintained.

Family cemeteries are privately owned, and burial records are typically not easily accessible to the public. You might be able to locate records at the historical society, town library, or with descendents of the family buried in the cemetery.

Church cemeteries are owned and maintained by a church. Burial records may be located at the church or with a local university. However, these records often move with the minister, making them difficult to find.

National cemeteries are usually owned and maintained by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs or the Department of the Army and the National Park Service. These cemeteries house the final resting places of veterans, their spouses, and other US military personnel. Burial records can be located by visiting the US Department of Veteran Affairs’ website.