cemetery, locating cemeteries, finding gravestones

Locating and Visiting Cemeteries

Editor’s note: The following post is by William Dollarhide, who has not only provided excellent tips of both the serious and witty variety, but is an accomplished Genealogical Publishing Company author. As Mr. Dollarhide excels not only an author but also as a gifted speaker and award winning genealogist, we are always delighted to share his advice, wisdom and wit with our readers. This is part one of his coverage of the topic of locating and visiting cemeteries. 

Locating and Visiting Cemeteries – Part One

DOLLARHIDE GENEALOGY RULE #21: To understand the living, you have to commune with the dead–but don’t commune with the dead so long that you forget that you are living! (From “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”)

Although I would not consider myself to be obsessed with death, burials, or other ghoulish activities, I have had some wonderful experiences in cemeteries. I am sure I am not alone. Since visiting cemeteries is part of what we do to find information about our ancestors, every genealogist has a cemetery story. These stories may include the weird problems associated with cemeteries as well as the wonderful discoveries that can be found there.

To most genealogists, the first problem is always that of finding the exact location of a cemetery where an ancestor was supposed to have been buried. But once the cemetery has been located, other problems prevail, such as finding a gravestone in an old unkempt graveyard with no finding aids available.

Here are some thoughts on finding and visiting cemeteries that may be of use to genealogists:

Finding-Tools for Locating Cemeteries

Death Certificates and Funeral Homes

A death certificate may give the name of a cemetery where the deceased was interred, as well as the name of a funeral home. The funeral home (or its successor) is probably still in business and should be contacted. To do this, use the “Yellow Book” (a directory of funeral homes) to find a funeral home today. Funeral home directors are clearly the best experts on the location of cemeteries in a particular area.

The “Yellow Book” is distributed annually to every funeral home in North America. Anyone should be able to call or visit a local funeral home and request to use their directory to find an address and phone number for any other funeral home. Fortunately, the same “Yellow Book” database is now on the Internet at www.funeralnet.com where the address and phone number for virtually every funeral home in the U.S. and Canada can be found online.

GENEALOGY RULE #3: When visiting a funeral home, wear old clothes, no makeup, and look like you have about a week to live–the funeral director will give you anything you ask for if he thinks you may be a customer soon.

Obituaries

Another possible source for locating a cemetery where an ancestor was buried is to see if a printed obituary for the deceased person includes information about where the body was interred. Obituaries are found in newspapers published near the place where a person died. Many old newspapers are available to genealogical researchers on microfilm, and they usually are located in a public library, college library, archives, genealogical society, historical society, or some other institution near the place of death of the subject.

A two-volume publication, “Newspapers in Microform,” published by the Library of Congress, is the best listing of what newspapers might be found on microfilm. The publication acts as a means of identifying and then borrowing rolls of film, which can be used at a local library through the national Interlibrary Loan System at more than 6,000 libraries in the U.S.

In addition, state libraries or state archives usually have the best collection of newspapers for a particular state. Most state archives now have a website on the Internet, where you may discover a detailed review of county newspapers.

The Internet is also a good place to search for obituaries that may have been published for a particular area. Check www.cyndislist.com under that category, or use your browser to search the web for the keyword, “obituaries.”

Using the GNIS to Find a Cemetery

There is another great tool for locating a particular cemetery that may not be obvious to researchers. The most complete listing and locations of named cemeteries in the U.S. can be found at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website at http://nhd.usgs.gov/gnis.html.

This site has the USGS’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS), which encompasses some two million place names (map features) in America, of which about 107,000 are cemeteries. The GNIS includes the largest list of named cemeteries published anywhere. (A few years ago, a very expensive printed publication advertised as the “most complete list of cemeteries in America” was produced, showing about 25,000 cemeteries–less than one-fourth the number that can be found in the GNIS listing.)

The GNIS cemetery names were taken from the detailed maps of the 7.5 x 7.5 minute series published by the USGS. (Each map in this series covers 7.5 minutes of latitude and 7.5 minutes of longitude, a rectangle representing an area about 6-7 miles wide by about 7-8 miles deep.) For the 7.5 series, more than 50,000 maps were required to show the entire U.S. and its possessions.

In addition to cemeteries, all other named features from the maps were extracted, including cities, towns, villages, hills, mountains, valleys, oil fields, airports, post offices, streams, lakes, and any other place on a map with a name. For years, genealogists were compelled to pay up to $3.00 per map for the USGS 7.5 series maps. Today, they are all accessible from the Internet and can be downloaded directly to your printer.

Image credit: By Kevin M. Byrne (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Death Records

Death Records: Ten Documents Every Genealogist Should Own

Editor’s Note: William Dollarhide knows how to organize, manage and execute a genealogy project. His tricks, rules and witty tips provide valuable guidance to genealogy researchers at all levels. Following are his ten documents every genealogist should own and tips on where to find them:

Go Get the Death Records!

A death certificate is not enough, and it might not even be correct. If you know a person’s exact date and place of death, then you have several more sources pertaining to a person’s death. If you can obtain these other death records, you will certainly learn more about your ancestors.

Here are ten places to look for a death record. All ten sources should be obtained for every ancestor on your pedigree chart and every member of a family on your family group sheet.

1. Death Certificates. A rule in genealogy is to treat the brothers and sisters of your ancestors as equals. That means you need to obtain genealogical sources for all of them. For instance, for every ancestor on your pedigree chart, and for every brother or sister of an ancestor, you need to obtain a death certificate (assuming they are dead). If there were six siblings in an ancestor’s family, a death certificate for each sibling will give six different sources about the same parents, places where the family lived, names of spouses, names of cemeteries, names of funeral directors, and other facts about a family. If a death certificate for your ancestor fails to provide the name of the deceased’s mother, for example, a sibling’s death certificate might give the full maiden name. How do you get a death certificate? Go to the vitalrec.com site, where detailed information about accessing death records can be found. It is a free-access website, and all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories or possessions are represented. Always start with a death certificate because the names, dates, and places you will find on a death certificate will lead you to further records.

2. Funeral Records. A death certificate may mention the name and location of a funeral director. Find a current funeral home in North America at www.funeralnet.com. This site has the listings from a directory of funeral homes called “The Yellow Book.” A funeral record may include names of survivors, names of the persons responsible for the funeral expenses, and, often, obscure biographical information about the deceased not available anywhere else. Modern funeral records are full of genealogical information about the deceased and may include copies of newspaper obituaries, death certificates, printed eulogies, funeral programs, and other details about the person. A reference to a burial permit, cremation, or cemetery can be found here as well. Generally, funeral directors are very easy to talk to and very cooperative. Even if the old name of a funeral home is not listed in a current directory, it should be possible to locate the current funeral home holding the records of an earlier one. Funeral homes rarely go out of business but, more often, are taken over by another funeral director. If at one time a town had two or three funeral homes, but only one today, the “Yellow Book” listing is still the source for finding the current funeral home in that town because it can lead you to information about the older funeral home. Funeral directors are also experts on the location of cemeteries in their area.

3. Cemetery Records. If the name of a cemetery is mentioned on the death certificate or funeral record, that cemetery is now a source of information about the person who died. There may be a record in the sexton’s office of the cemetery, or off-site at a caretaker’s home; and the gravestone inscription may be revealing as well. When you contact a funeral home, ask about the cemetery where the person was buried and whether the funeral home has an address or phone number for the cemetery office, or at least know who might be the keeper of records for the cemetery. At the same time, ask the funeral director for the names of monument sellers/stone masons who cater to cemeteries in the area. As a back-up, a local stone mason may have a record of a monument inscription for the deceased’s gravestone. To locate a cemetery anywhere in the U.S., a special list can be obtained from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) within their Geographic Names Information System (GNIS). The GNIS contains the names of over two million place names (map features) in America, of which about 107,000 are cemeteries. Visit the GNIS website and click on “Domestic Names” to search for any named cemetery. Continue reading…

Genealogy research

Tips for Genealogy Research, of the wittier variety

Bill Dollarhide prepared forty five witty tips for genealogy research, most of which are published below. While each aphorism is intended to produce a chuckle or two, each contains an important element of genealogical truth as well. Consider #15: “Finding the place where a person lived may lead to finding that person’s arrest record.” The point of #15 is that researchers must keep an open mind. No one knows what is around the next bend in one’s ancestral road. Continue reading…