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Locating Cemeteries and Cemetery Records

There are several types of cemeteries in America. First, there are church-owned cemeteries, which include churchyards located right around the church, and cemeteries run by the church, but not adjacent to the church. There are also national, state, and local cemeteries that are owned by the government and maintained by tax dollars. Privately-owned, non-church cemeteries are also abundant. This type of cemetery is usually operated for profit. Finally, you can find small family burial plots on private property.

There are many ways to find out where your ancestor is buried. If you don't know the name of the cemetery in which your ancestor was buried, look in obituaries, wills, and on death certificates — they often list burial information or the name of a funeral home that you can contact. Make sure that you also ask other family members if they are aware of any family plots. Also check the records of the church that your ancestor attended. Their records may have the name of the cemetery.

If you can't find the exact name of a cemetery, but are fairly certain that your ancestor was buried in a specific area, you can check your local public and genealogy libraries for the American Blue Book of Funeral Directors, published in New York by the National Funeral Directors Association. This book contains the names of cemeteries, organized by location, and will at least give you a target list of cemeteries to check out. With this target list, try to call the cemetery and ask them to check their records. If there doesn't seem to be an office, ask local genealogical societies, libraries, funeral homes, and churches if they are aware of any records for the cemetery. If that fails, you may need to visit the cemetery itself and walk up and down the rows of gravestones in search of your ancestor.

When you have the name of the cemetery, you may or may not know the location. If you don't know the location, you can find it in several ways. First look in telephone books for the area, or ask at the local courthouse, library, genealogical society, or even local churches. Second, look at U.S. Government Geological Survey maps of the area, available in larger libraries and often in sporting goods stores. These maps show all of the roads, houses, and even the small graveyards. Finally, check your local public and genealogy libraries for the American Blue Book of Funeral Directors.

Once you have located the cemetery, you may want to visit it in order to read your ancestor's gravestone. This can often be a great source of information. For example, you can find birth and death dates, relatives' names, and even information about military service or an individual's religion. Another reason to visit a cemetery is that you may find other relatives: often families bought family plots in cemeteries, so where you find one relative, you may find a few others. If the cemetery has an office or caretaker, try calling before you visit. Find out when someone will be available to look in the cemetery records and tell you where your ancestor's plot is. This will save you the trouble of having to search the entire cemetery for your ancestor. If you do have to walk up and down among the gravestones, bring the whole family -- several pairs of legs and eyes are better than one.

Also helpful are cemetery records. These records usually include at least names and death dates, and the location of the plot in the cemetery. You may also find information such as birth dates, spouse's and parents' names. If the cemetery has an office, ask them if it is possible to look through records. If there doesn't seem to be an office, check around the area to find out if the cemetery records are archived anywhere. Local libraries, churches, genealogical societies, and courthouses may be able to help you out.

While actually visiting the grave site is the best thing to do, doing so may not always be convenient. One way to search for ancestors from home is to search the Virtual Cemetery here at You may also find your ancestor's gravestone inscription among the transcriptions owned by some organizations. Local libraries, genealogy libraries, and genealogy societies in the area where your ancestor is buried may have or know about transcriptions from local cemeteries. In addition, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Works Project Administration, the Idaho Genealogical Society, and the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers have all transcribed selected gravestone inscriptions from throughout the United States. Contact the Daughters of the American Revolution Library or your local Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more information about their collections of gravestone transcriptions. The Library of Congress and other large libraries throughout the United States also have transcript collections. If you do look at gravestone transcriptions, remember that there is always the possibility of errors in the transcriptions -- it's best to try to verify any information you find.

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