There’s nothing like cemetery records to establish relationships between ancestors, put an ancestor in a place in time, and discover new members for your tree. They are wonderful tools for genealogy research. Really, not every record comes to you carved in stone – literally and figuratively.When would a cemetery or headstone record come in handy?
- Establishing a place and/or date of death
- Establishing date of birth
- Learning family ethniticity (if the stone is in another language)
- Identifying a spouse (spouse birth, marriage, death dates)
- Identifying children (sometimes listed on a stone or on nearby stones)
- Identifying correllary lines (in-laws of the decedant, in-laws of the children) all often buried nearby
- Finding family members that died young (children buried near their parents)
- Learning of military service (as noted on the headstone)
- Discovering religious tradition affiliations (buried at a faith-sponsored cemetery)
So, suffice to say there is genealogy “gold buried in them there cemeteries.” The challenge for genealogists is to find those cemeteries and dig up those golden records. The obvious choice is to go to the cemetery and look. And many a genealogist has devoted weekends in the pursuit of cemetery-stomping and picnic lunches with willing, or not-so-willing, spouses in tow.
But! you may be saying, I don’t know what cemetery my ancestors are buried in? Or the cemetery is at a distance that makes travel prohibitive. Ah, follow me, and I’ll show you other ways to “steal the gold” and make your tree all the more richer for it.
Four Places to Find Cemetery Records
1. FindaGrave – This online database has quicky become a first-reach source for cemetery records. When I last looked they tout a mere 77 million records for the digital cemetery sleuth. I must confess, I have come late to the Find-A-Grave Fan Club, but am now an ardent devotee. Many wonderful volunteers have uploaded their information on deceased relatives, including headstone pictures, cemetery entrance markers, transcribed headstones, and even obituaries and personal pictures to the site for free and easy access for everyone. What’s even better is known families are linked or hyperlinked together. You may be looking for one ancestor and stumble on a whole family – with names, and dates, and so much more. Wow!
2. Internment.net – A close cousin to the above is Internment.net. It’s the same concept, just a different bunch of wonderful volunteers. That said, this Internet-wonder reaches out to a broader geography and includes cemeteries worldwide. Just when you were ready to pack your bags and head off to England to check out a cemetery, you can now save the airfare and just go online.
3. Local Genealogy & Historical Societies – One of my genealogy axioms is that the best – being defined as the rarest – genealogy records are frequently found at the local level. Why? Because only the people in Lone Jack, Missouri (population 3, 309) will take the time and attention to collect and preserve the records closest to home. So, if you want cemetery records for Lone Jack, Missouri, you go to the Lone Jack Historical Society. Now, historically, the only means for these hometown heroes to communicate their work has been through periodicals (their newsletter). As a result, there are a lot of tombstone transcriptions and cemetery records sitting on the shelves amid the genealogy periodicals.
A Word About Genealogy Periodicals – Many regional genealogy or historical societies publish a regular newsletter that may be issued monthly or quarterly. Commonly you will find transcribed local sources not published elsewhere. The transcription project isn’t enough to warrant publishing a book; however, it is an ideal length for an article or series of articles in a newsletter. Cemetery transcriptions – particularly of small family or church cemeteries that can’t be found any place else – are perfect for a newsletter.
Finding Cemetery Transcriptions from Societies in Periodicals – If you’re concerned that finding the cemetery records among the periodicals will be like finding a needle in a haystack (where are the periodicals? which periodical? is there a transcription?), have no fear. The secret to finding anything in periodicals is PERSI. Started and maintained by the Allen County Public Library, in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, it is the authoritative index for the nearly 10,000 genealogy periodicals. And now, in the 21st Century, it’s all online as easily accessible as your nearest library’s website. Free and among your local library’s online databases, turn to Heritage Quest Online available to find PERSI. Under the “place” search select the state and/or county where you suspect your ancestor to be buried, and select the “type of record” to be “cemeteries.” The database returns a list of all of the articles in that region that relate to cemeteries. (See example above for Perry County, Missouri.) Now, the articles with the transcriptins aren’t online, but you can order the article from Allen County Public Library for a small fee, if your regional library doesn’t have a copy of the publication.
4. USGenWeb State Tombstone Transcription Project – Not unlike the grassroots, hometown, all-volunteer transcription projects that make their way into genealogy periodicals, the same efforts have found another home online at USGenWeb. Organized by state and then county or region, independent groups collect and post transcriptions free and and for the benefit of all. There are some amazing all-state collections and collections with a much smaller scope. The size and scope of the projects can be very hit and miss, but if you’re lucky enough to be looking for a cemetery where those before you have stomped, you’ve hit a goldmine. Here’s a perfect example. The Midwest Historical and Genealogical Society has transcribed many headstones in cemeteries in Sedgwick County, KS and have posted them on their website. The site and the cemetery listings are part of the KSGenWeb project. The pages initially were only transcriptions, but over time headstone pictures have been added as collected or submitted.
Would you believe I’ve only scratched the suface? There are many more online sites that contain trancriptions that time and space don’t allow me to detail here. Further, as interest in genealogy grows and more volunteers are called into service, I can only imagine these transcription projects exploding. How exciting for us! So go forth and dig in to those cemeteries! The genealogy treasures are waiting.