Cemeteries can differ from location to location, depending on the geographical area, the population of the surrounding communities, ethnic and religious affiliations, and the purpose of the cemetery. For example, a church cemetery will be very different from a military cemetery in purpose, types of records maintained, physical layout, and the types of markers or monuments.
Before visiting a cemetery for genealogical research, try to determine what type of cemetery it is. You can sometimes accomplish this by searching for a website on the Internet for the cemetery itself, or the municipality or organization responsible for maintaining the facility. You may find information about cemeteries in an area by visiting the USGenWeb Project sites for states and counties () or for different countries at the WorldGenWeb Project site.
If you are trying to learn about military cemeteries in the U.S., visit the Veterans Administration website. For U.S. veterans buried overseas, visit the American Battle Monuments Commission. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission siteÂ provides information about military cemeteries, interments, and memorials for more than 1.7 million men and women from the UK, Canada, Australia, and other members of the Commonwealth.
Before visiting a cemetery, it is advisable to make contact with the administrator or sexton. He or she can tell you what is and what is not available in the way of records about each burial and where to locate the graves of your ancestors and family members. You can also make an appointment to visit the administrative office to meet, to obtain copies of records, and to learn about other resources in the community. These might include stonecutters, funeral homes and mortuaries, crematoria, and government offices that handle the issuance of death certificates, burial permits, and who may handle deeds for the cemetery lots and/or plots.
Rural cemeteries and especially family cemeteries may be more difficult to locate, as may be the administrators or sextons. Local funeral homes will usually be able to supply their contact name and information for a rural cemetery to you. The government agency that issues burial permits also may be able to help. However, donâ€™t overlook the resources of the local public library reference personnel and the local genealogical and historical societies. All of these people may have contact with the cemetery owners or administration personnel in the area.
Make yourself familiar in advance of your visit with local histories. These can sometimes provide insights into the various national, ethnic, or religious groups in the vicinity, as well as any burial customs that may be different from those you have previously encountered. You might also study something about cemetery iconography so that you better understand the meanings of symbols and characters inscribed on markers.
If you plan to visit a military cemetery, learn something about the branches of the military and the time period of battles and burials encompassed by the graves. If you understand the basic military organizational structure and the ranks of the servicemen and women, you may gain a better understanding of the cemetery occupantsâ€™ lives and experiences.
Your advance preparation for your cemetery research trip will increase your ability to anticipate what you will find and your understanding of the available records and of the lives of the people interred there. Good luck!
George Has a New Book!
George has written English Genealogical Research in the Major London Repositories to help researchers who are planning a research trip to England better organize their research time onsite, and to help those researchers working from home to locate the most appropriate repositories to begin their overseas research about British Isles ancestors. The book was published in conjunction with Lulu (http://www.lulu.com). You can learn more about it at:
Visit George’s all-new website at http://ahaseminars.com for information about his company, speaking engagements, and presentation topics. You can also listen to George and Drew Smith’s Genealogy Guys podcast.