Researching your family tree can give you important and surprising information about your roots. Along the way, you may discover medical conditions that run in your family, relationships to historical figures, or just interesting anecdotes about your ancestors. Often, visiting cemeteries is an important part of genealogical research. You can often glean information from tombstones that's hard to find elsewhere, like birth dates, birth places, and the names of spouses and children that you haven't previously discovered. Check out a few tips for visiting cemeteries for genealogical research that will help your investigations go smoothly.
How To Find A Grave
Tracking an ancestor down to a specific cemetery is rarely the end of your research. Many cemeteries are quite large, and you'll need to have a have an idea of where in the plot you're looking for is on the cemetery property. The older the grave is, the more difficult it may be to locate.
You have several options for finding a specific burial plot. You may be able to find a burial permit filed with the death certificate. If so, you're in luck – these are rather rare, but they'll tell you the exact location of the plot you're searching for. In the absence of a burial permit, your next best bet is to talk to the cemetery caretaker, known as the sexton. The plot information that you're looking for should be in the sexton's records. If the cemetery that you intend to visit is far away and the contact information for the sexton isn't readily available, you can also try searching one of several "virtual cemeteries" that list burial locations.
If the ancestor that you're looking for was a veteran, you should be able to find the burial location by checking with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Additionally, churches often keep burial records for the cemeteries that they own, and local libraries can be helpful for locating burial plot information for private cemeteries.
What To Bring
There are several things you can bring to the cemetery with you that will help you create a helpful and accurate record for your family tree project. Start by making sure that you have a pen or pencil, paper, and a clipboard so that you have a firm surface to write on. If you have one, you should consider bringing a GPS unit so that you can record the exact coordinates of the grave once you find it. That will make it much easier for your descendants to make similar visits. Bring a camera to take photographs with as well.
Pack several bottles of water with your other supplies. Not only will you want to stay hydrated while exploring a large cemetery, you may also want the water to pour on the gravestone if it's hard to read – sometimes a little cleaning can make the inscription more legible. A flashlight is also a good idea for hard-to-decipher tombstones. If you intend to make gravestone rubbings, you'll need to bring the materials for that, including a brush, scissors, tape, rice paper, rubbing wax, a spray bottle, a clean rag, a rubber band and a poster tube. However, not all cemeteries allow gravestone rubbings—some headstones are too fragile to withstand the rubbing process. So check the rules before packing these supplies.
When you locate the grave that you're looking for, be sure to check the graves in the immediate proximity as well – you may discover other ancestors that you weren't aware of before. With proper planning, you may find that visiting a cemetery is one of the most informative parts of your genealogical research.