Research Guide – U.S. Cemetery Records

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Research Guide – U.S. Cemetery Records2018-09-30T20:44:07+00:00


Any time there are no formally documented birth, marriage and death records, cemetery records might function as an replacement source. You will discover several types of information and facts which might be extracted from cemeteries.

Gravestones usually consist of the date of birth and death. Additionally, it can comprise of military service, description of relationship in the family, or cause of death.

Whether you are working on a comprehensive genealogy project, or are just researching a few generations back for your own interests, cemetery records can play a huge role in your project. It can actually prove to be very surprising to learn everything that records from cemeteries can offer you and your research. You may even find that the records that you are able to locate will be able to take your project into entirely new directions that you never would have considered.

Information about deaths and births can often be found in cemetery records. Although Christian and Jewish cemeteries and burial spots are usually most interesting to genealogists, the practice of creating cemeteries or other burial areas for groups of people is several thousand years old. The following are types of cemetery records that genealogists need to look for:

  • Church Burial Registers
  • Sextons’ Records
  • Cemetery Deed and Plot Registers
  • Burial Permit Records
  • Grave Opening Orders
  • Monument (Gravestone) Inscriptions

In many cases, the records above can be used to verify the birth and death information in other genealogical resources. However, there are times when one or more of the records above may be the only available reference that lists a certain person’s birth or death.

It can sometimes be difficult to locate cemetery records, but there are certain guides available, including A Graveyard Preservation Primer (Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1988) and How to Search a Cemetery (Salt Lake City: The Genealogical Institute, 1974). The time and trouble it takes to find those records is often well worth it to the researcher, especially if the person of interest happened to die when they were under the age of 21. Cemetery records may contain the only information about those who died at a young age, especially those who died in the 1800s. It’s important to remember that child deaths were much more common in those times than they are today.

Women living in the 1800s also may only be listed by name in cemetery records. Censuses from before 1850 only listed “female” and an age range, not a name. So, women who died fairly young or did nothing of note that might get them listed in local papers, may be virtually impossible to trace without cemetery records.

Unfortunately, many colonial gravestones are now missing or impossible to read. However, it’s still well worth walking through colonial cemeteries, if possible. Any information that is still legible on the gravestones may be vitally important. For example, if a family changed the spelling of their last name when they moved to America, the gravestones may be the only place where the name is listed with its original spelling. Luckily, many of the gravestones from 1820 to 1920, which is when a lot of immigration occurred, still exist today. By comparing names and dates on those gravestones, many family connections can be tracked.

Here are just a few of the very useful pieces of information that these types of records can provide you with.

Names, Names, Names

When it comes to any genealogy project, you will find that learning the names of your ancestors is not only very interesting but it can be a bit insightful also. If there is a first name that has been known as a family name for many generations, you could just learn where it originated from.

Cemetery records will also give you access to complete names that include the first, middle, last, and even maiden names of those who you are researching. Knowing their full names can also help you to distinguish between your relatives and others when you come across a list of people with similar names.

Important Dates

A very vital part of any family history project is the dates that you can add to it. Knowing the birth date and date of death of your ancestors can help to better organize your family tree. If the records are kept at a church, or are associated with a church then you might also be able to find out dates of marriages and dates that children were christened, which can all provide you with additional clues about your family history.

Clues To The Family’s Origin

A lot of cemetery records will include details that relate to the place of birth of the individual. This information can prove to be especially helpful to you if your research has thus far left you stumped as to where your family originated from. By uncovering places of birth, you could just learn that your family crossed oceans from Europe, Asia, or even Africa.

This information can help you to expand your project to new shores and new information that has been lost for generations.

Other Great Details

Some records from cemeteries can often contain information pertaining to the surviving family members of the person you are researching. This could let you know if your ancestor was married, or whether they had other children that you weren’t previously aware of. You could also come across a lot of information that relates to their parents, which will give you additional names and leads to follow to help your project expand further back into your family’s history.

Cemetery records can offer a wide variety of information that would have otherwise been somewhat difficult to locate. To find it all in one place can save you a lot of time with your project research, and also help you to ensure that your project doesn’t stall out over a lack of information. Remember to make copies of everything that you learn so that you will have a copy to refer back to at a later point if you should have the need to do so.

Cemetery Tips, Hints & Search Strategies

“Cemetery record” is a broad term that describes a variety of possible records created to show who is buried in a cemetery and, possibly, who purchased the lot, listing a next of kin. These documents are found in a variety of places.

  1. Records of church cemeteries are often found in the church records either at a local or regional level.
  2. Public cemeteries have records maintained by a sexton, caretaker or town clerk.
  3. Records of family cemeteries are not always maintained and the lots are generally located on private property with no records to show who is buried there. Check family manuscript collections.
  4. Consider that cemeteries have been moved, stones have been vandalized and records have been lost. Check with local libraries or historical societies to find out about relocated cemeteries.

First do a history of the town and years in question. Create a list of names and locations of cemeteries that existed at that time and place. Consider private and public cemeteries along with church cemeteries. Use the following resources:

  • Published county histories
  • City directories
  • Newspapers

Some surveys have been done to index or extract names that are found on gravestones or records. Various groups and individuals create these lists for a variety of reasons. Some have been published in genealogical periodicals and are indexed in PERSI (Periodical Source Index).

Cemetery Record Links

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