- 1 Introduction
- 2 Finding Records
- 3 Finding Cemeteries
- 4 Websites for Cemetery Research
- 5 Individual Cemetery Websites
Cemeteries are regarded as the location where people are buried after they die. They are often known by various terms such as graveyards, burying grounds, burial grounds, burial plots, 'churchyards', and several other terms. Some of the terms are often used to define smaller cemeteries, such as those that may be adjacent to a church, hence the term 'churchyard' in a few cases for example, with smaller cemeteries, while others apply to all.
A cemetery may be operated by a municipality, or it may be operated by a church or religion, a funeral home or other private company, or a fraternal order. Depending on availability of suitable land, it may be quite small, or it may be very large. Some burial plots may contain only one or several graves, while a few very large ones may have over a million burials.
The records available from cemeteries are headstone inscriptions and written records (burial records). Cemetery records may provide information such as the deceased’s name, date and place of birth and death, age of the deceased at death, place of origin, names of other persons related to the deceased, maiden surname, and sometimes marriage information. They may also provide clues about military service, religion, occupation, place of residence at time of death, or membership in an organization. Cemetery records are especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young or women.
Headstone inscriptions are information recorded on headstones (also known as tombstones or gravestones). Even when burial or death records exist, headstone inscriptions might provide information that the parish or civil certificate of death does not, such as place of birth. Sometimes, multiple family members are buried in the same vault and the inscription will give information on all that are buried there. Information recorded on headstones is of primary importance. Often, this information has been transcribed, indexed, and published and is found in manuscripts and books in libraries and archives.
Written records are information recorded by cemetery officials or caretakers, included in parish and cemetery records recorded by the civil authority. Many persons could not afford permanent purchase of the grave and gravestone or monument, so after a period of time the grave was reused. Written cemetery records can be especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young. Because relatives may be buried in adjoining plots, it is best to examine the original records. Written records include:
- Cemetery sextons' records
- Municipal cemetery records
- Church yard records
- Grave books
- Plot books
Cemeteries are often located next to a church. If you know where your ancestor attended church check that place first. If your ancestor died in another part of the country he or she may have been brought to the home parish for burial. Your ancestor may have been buried in a church or a civil (local authority) cemetery - usually near the place where he or she lived or died. You can find clues to burial places in church records, newspaper announcements, or family histories.
There are a number of ways to find cemeteries:
- Look in phone books or other directories for a location
- Look in atlases, gazetteers, or other maps to see if cemeteries are shown.
- Search for them on Google, which has many listed, but not all. Google Maps has a large number shown on them in English-speaking areas, coverage is incomplete in most other languages.
- Use burial databases online, such as those described below to locate not only the cemetery, but often listings or photos of headstones for those buried in them. Coverage varies from site to site, so search in more than one site.
Websites for Cemetery Research
The following websites are useful in locating many burials. Coverage is best in North America, the United Kingdom (Great Britain), and occasional data in some parts of western Europe so any data, especially outside those areas, will eventually prove very helpful to those in the areas not covered presently. If you wish to contribute data, see the individual sites mentioned below to learn how to contribute and what data is needed and in what form to contribute. FamilySearch has indexing projects on occasion for funeral home or cemetery records, go to the 'Indexing' tab at the top of the page, above this article, for more information on FamilySearch Indexing.
When searching for a name and burial location, be sure to search any of these sites by cemetery, and overall. There are times when you may have information that leads you to believe that a burial took place at one location, when in fact it may have occurred elsewhere nearby, often very close by. Sometimes several cemeteries will be next to each other or be across the road from each other. Also sometimes two or more cemeteries will combine together under a single name. Many times this will be obvious, but at times it is not.
Also as with any genealogical search for a particular person, be sure to search for variant spellings, or if for an adult woman, the married surname. Most cemeteries have a few infant burials, which can often only have the surname of the infant that died, especially if it took place within a couple days of the birth.
On this wiki, look in the place where the cemetery is located, as many have links containing data for the local cemeteries. Check with several websites, because one may have data for the cemetery you are looking for that another may not have.
Individual Cemetery Websites
Some cemeteries will maintain a website which will often list operating hours, and some will post burial lists online for those sites. Type the cemetery name in a search engine to see if the cemetery you want to find has a website. Some search engines show the location of the cemetery in the results, which can be helpful in verifying if you have the right cemetery or not.
Find A Grave
Find A Grave is probably the best known aggregator site for cemetery data. Photos, death certificates, obituaries, and other information are gathered by site visitors and users, then submitted to it. The information is then made searchable. The site not only includes burial information in the United States, information can be found for a burials throughout the world on the site. Coverage depends on the cemetery and the interest in it. If it is known that a person was definitely buried in a cemetery, a memorial can be created by a person anywhere in the world and a request can be submitted for someone to photograph any tombstones that may be located on the grave. In some cases, cemeteries may not contain the more recent burial information for individuals. Searches on the site may be done by surname or cemetery within a country, state, or county. It is not necessary to know an individual's complete name to complete a search on the site however, it is necessary to have at least the surname. A researcher does not have to be a member of the site to search it, however they do have to be a member to submit information, photos, or documemtation to it.
Interment.net is a site where transcriptions of headstones are gathered and placed online. There are no photos, but you can often find listings of burials that can be nearly complete for older or very small cemeteries.
BillionGraves is a newer site that allows anyone to download an app for their iPhone or Android device (for Android users, the website will indicate which Android devices do NOT work with their app, often this can depend on either the wireless carrier or the device, occasionally both), then go out to a cemetery and take pictures of the headstones. The app tags the photos with the GPS location, thus it effectively maps the cemetery, which makes it easy to find the location on the web or on the smartphone app. This site is very new, so coverage is not to the level of Find A Grave or Interment.net, but thousands of headstones are photographed and uploaded every week to the site.
One feature of this site is that one can search the database by cemetery, or search the entire site overall for a name. This is easily done because of the GPS features offered by the smartphone app used for taking pictures of the headstones.
FamilySearch announced on 27 April 2012 that they would incorporate searches for data from this site into the FamilySearch.org website, meaning that the same data will be searchable on either site, there may be a slight lag time between when data is indexed on BillionGraves and when the same data will show up in the search results at FamilySearch. See this blog post for more information. On 25 May 2012, the BillionGraves Index, as FamilySearch calls the collection, went live on FamilySearch. You can find data in a routine search generally, or through the BillionGraves Index page on FamilySearch for the data on its own.
The site currently has thousands of photographs that have been taken of graves by volunteers that have not been indexed or identified and needs volunteers to look at photographs that have been taken by other volunteers in the cemeteries and downloaded to the site. In order for a person to volunteer, they have to register with the site which only takes a few minutes. A person who wishes to volunteer to input information from photos to the site can do this without visiting any of the cemeteries and can choose where in the world they would like to input information of graves for.
The Political Graveyard: A database of American History
The Political Graveyard calls itself "The Internet's Most Comprehensive Source of U.S. Political Biography (or, The Web Site that Tells Where the Dead Politicians are Buried)." Created and maintained as a free site by Lawrence Kestenbaum, it now contains the names of more than 250,000 United States politicians who have participated in politics at the state and federal levels and mayors (or other chief elected official) of large municipalities.
Each entry consists of a brief summary of the person's political career, with links to other sites for more complete information, including the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress and it predecessor. Of interest to family historians are the links from each entries to entries for family members.
It is searchable and includes dozens of interesting indexes and lists, including name and soundex indexes, for example, and gazetteer to locations, location indexes, and, of course cemetery indexes. Also includes a list of nearly 900 leading political families with all of their members.
Names in Stone
Names in Stone is another site that uses GPS technology to map cemeteries. An additional feature is that the site partners with cemeteries to add new headstone information to the site on a regular basis since often a cemetery is still having burials take place. There are other mapping features on the site too. One very nice feature is that the site shows a map of the cemetery showing where each burial is located within the cemetery.
Waymarking.com Worldwide Cemeteries
Waymarking.com Worldwide Cemeteries is a new project to geolocate any cemetery or burial place anywhere in the world and 'waymark' it so that anyone can find it should they go to the location. Some locations will have photos, all will have GPS coordinates although in a few cases that can be somewhat off so verify what you find with Google Maps, Bing Maps, or other searchable mapping site. No actual data is here, only the geolocation data and occasionally some other information about the cemetery.
Genealogy and Family History Data Websites
In addition to the above, genealogy and family history data websites that have aggregated data on them will often have databases, large and small, of burials, or funeral home records that will often indicate which cemetery the person at the funeral home is buried in. Both FamilySearch and Ancestry have databases containing this type of data. The US Genweb Project and World Genweb Project, along with local societies, also will post transcriptions of cemetery data on their websites as well. Rootsweb also has cemetery transcriptions.