Certainly the most significant cemeteries for our immigrant ancestors were sponsored
(or owned) by religious groups, notably churches. During much of the 19th cemeteries,
there were likely as many immigrants buried in church cemeteries as in all other cemeteries
combined. As noted previously, our immigrant ancestors were often more devout than their
descendants and, in immigrant communities, the church, synagogue, or other religious group
played a central part.
Since the founding of America, churches and synagogues have established cemeteries, usually
on grounds next to the group's building. Here they buried the faithful (and sometimes the
not so faithful) members of their congregation. For some religions, notably the Roman
Catholic, burial in sacred, consecrated, ground was essential to a person's salvation.
For many others, burial was a sacrament, to be conducted by a spiritual leader.
While a specific burial site was not always necessary, if a church conducted a burial,
the most convenient place of interment would be the local church yard. The records of
burials in religious cemeteries are most likely to be found with that religious group.
Since a church usually keeps a burial register, there may be no separate sexton's records
(described below). Therefore, church records (described two lessons previously) are the
first place to seek information on the death of an immigrant.