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Using Cemeteries As A Resource In Your Family History Research

Updated on June 20, 2016
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Linda lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. She has been researching her family history for over 40 years.

Now that you've decided to begin shaking the branches of your family tree, you may be wondering what it will cost you. Mostly, it's going to cost you a lot of time. Family research takes time; lots of time. The good news is that it's relatively free. The associated cost of researching will depend on how serious you are about doing it. If you are going to pursue certified copies of birth certificates, you're going to spend $8.00 to $15.00 per copy. If you're going to hire a researcher to help you, prepare to spend some money. Good researchers make between $75.00 to $200.00 an hour. That should motivate you to do it yourself. Researching doesn't have to be costly. There are endless resources available to you and the only cost is the gas you put in your car or a dime or two for photocopies.

Let's begin with what i think is the most fun resource. You may not think so and that's okay. I find it fascinating that there is a whole underground culture of people wandering around in cemeteries, documenting the dead. If you know where one of your ancestors is buried, it's a great place to start. Take your digital camera with you, and a notepad. That's all you need.

The time involved is totally in your control. You can survey an entire cemetery or just document your relatives. I'll limit this hub to cemeteries simply because there is so much to say.

Cemetery Records

Public Cemeteries:

You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Many cemeteries, especially public ones, have an office and staff who can oftentimes provide you with much of what you're looking for. I recently walked into the office of a local cemetery and asked if there was anyone buried there with a particular surname. A few keystrokes later and I hate the date of birth, date of death, plot location, obituary, and military record of someone I had been searching for for years. Wahoo !!! See how easy it can be. Try to control your excitement though. It's not always that easy. The amazing part is that getting information on that one relative was just what I needed to put more of the puzzle together. From the military record, I was able to get the names of parents, place of birth, etc. The lesson here is, never give up and document everything you learn about your ancestor.

Church Cemeteries:

If you know that some of your ancestors were buried in the local church cemetery, call the church secretary and ask if they have records on site. Most are more than happy to let you scan through the records. This is a great project for those cold or rainy days. Save the sunny days for doing the outdoor surveys.

Private Family Cemeteries:

I can't stress enough the importance of asking permission to visit private family cemeteries. First of all, it's the respectful thing to do. Second, it just might keep you out of jail for trespassing or from staring down the barrel of a shotgun.

» Note

Remember I suggested you take a digital camera? Even when you're looking at record books, it's important to snap a photo. Family research is only as good as the documentation that proves the facts. I've gotten some bad information from time to time from someone else's research, only to find out years later that it wasn't accurate. I've also gotten home only to find that I couldn't read my writing. A photo saves a trip back to verify. Document, document, document and you will be respected as a quality researcher and save yourself a lot of time.

Cemetery Surveys

Thank goodness for the wonderful people in this world who go out and survey entire cemeteries. I have learned so much about my family because of their dedication and hard work. This is where I make my plea for more volunteers and plug a wonderful Internet resource.

Let's define a cemetery survey, for starters. A survey is when a person with a generous heart takes the time to photograph every marked grave in a cemetery and records the information from the marker. Then, and this is the amazing part, they share that information with anyone who is interested - for free. How cool is that?

As a new researcher, I won't encourage you to survey a public cemetery with thousands of graves but I will encourage you to do so with those small family or church cemeteries. Make a day of it, or several mornings. Photos of grave markers in the early morning light can be incredible. It makes it easier to read the inscriptions too. It's called paying it forward. Your efforts may help someone find that long lost branch of their tree and that's what it's all about, researcher helping researcher.

Let's Wrap It Up

So now you have some tools to work with that don't cost a thing.

  • existing records from cemetery offices or church office
  • cemetery survey that you conduct
  • Find A Grave website

That should keep you busy for a while. Happy hunting !

© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

Read more of my hubs here.

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  • patty31764 profile image

    patty31764 5 years ago from Decatur, Alabama

    I love researching in cemeteries as well. And they are a wealth of information. Gives you a bit if history of the area.

  • MizBejabbers profile image

    MizBejabbers 5 years ago

    Love your suggestions! I have haunted the local cemeteries in my hometown for years and have lots of good information and photographs. Luckily I took some of them to older family members (who have now passed on) and got some relationships clarified like "That baby Anna that died in 1910 was great-uncle Ray's baby, not his brother Charley's". Unfortunately, sometimes in rural cemeteries there may be headstones with no names. That is the case in a little community cemetery that my grandmother's family helped establish pre-Civil War. We play guessing games every time we go there as to the identities, and also where our family runs out and another begins. My uncle said that during that period of time, there were no stone engravers around that rural area to engrave the headstones. 'Tis a pity.