Cemetery records and gravestones are not considered direct evidence in genealogical research but that doesn’t mean they don’t provide critical information for anyone doing genealogical research. Many of those who are seeking to trace their ancestry overlook these records because they believe they already have all the information they might be able to get from them, name, birth date/year and death date/year. However, there are many other things you can learn from looking more closely at the cemetery records, burial details, and tombstones of your ancestors.
There are four primary elements of genealogical information names, dates, places, and relationships. Each of these elements can be found in many cemetery records. To get a better understanding of how each can be ascertained and utilized, here is an overview of how each element relates to cemetery records.
Names – In order to understand how cemetery records can be beneficial from the perspective of names, we have to start by assuming that you have located a cemetery record for someone of interest. With that, you may be able to identify maiden names, parent’s names, children’s names, spouse’s names, and even the names of siblings or other relatives. While you may be looking at a single record, that single record can be expanded into a search for other people buried in the same plot, others in the same cemetery with the same name, etc. Finding the initial record can open the door to finding the names of others that you need to fill out or advance your research.
Dates – As you move through your family tree, you may find it challenging to locate birth dates and death dates for some of your ancestors. Cemetery records can be very helpful in this respect. For example, let’s say you are looking for Robert Mills in Ohio around the 1850’s. You locate three land records for different Robert Mills living in Ohio that have dates ranging from 1830 to 1870. At first glance, you might assume all three records belong to the same person. Then you locate two cemetery records for Robert Mills in Ohio. One has a death date of 1849 and one a death date of 1868. Now, it isn’t so clear that those land records all belong to the Robert Mills you are looking for and you have more avenues to search.
Places – This may be one of the most important pieces of information you can get from a cemetery record because it pinpoints with the kind of exactness often lacking in other genealogical records where a specific person or family was at a specific time. Once you have the burial location of a member of your ancestor’s family, you can use that point in time detail to conduct more focused searches for primary sources.
Relationships – This is one thing you can get from cemetery records that many people don’t think about when conducting name specific searches. While it is not always true, family members are often buried within the same plot. This means that by examining the details of the aforementioned records for Robert Mills of Ohio, you may be able to ascertain that they are both buried in the same plot. Assuming their birth information supports it, you could then make a reasonable assumption that they are father and son and you now have a relationship documented with indirect evidence.
In addition, examining the cemetery records, burial records, and tombstone images of your ancestors can help you determine things like military service and religious affiliation that can help to expand your understanding of that person and lead you in more focused research endeavors.