Posted by Jeanie Croasmun on October 30, 2009 in Research

Before I started working at, I thought cemeteries were creepy. Sure, they were great places for flowers and remembrance a few times a year. But if you didn’t actually know one of the residents, you definitely didn’t want to pop by. 

I would have never predicted that four and a half years later, I’d be taking my kids to one. Just for fun.

We went for the history. Once a year, on the Sunday before Halloween, the old cemetery near my home brings its dead back to life. Actors portray the cemetery’s residents, telling stories about their lives and subsequent deaths. And seeing that the town was once an old mining camp high up in the mountains, those lives and deaths were rarely pretty.

Honestly I thought my kids would be bored or at least creeped out. That was anything but the case. My five-year-old daughter listened intently to the stories, while my eight-year-old son brushed leaves off tombstones to read inscriptions and calculate ages. They were fascinated. So was I.

Even if you can’t make it to a cemetery for a quick history lesson, you can wander through virtual ones in the public member photos section of <>. Search for keywords including “tombstone,” “headstone,” or “gravestone” for photos of graves – I found a handful that dated back to the 17th century and plenty of newer ones as well. Or read about how the tombstone of an unrelated, slain lawman sent author Ellen Notbohm on a search for the story behind his death in “A Tombstone Tells Its Story,” from Ancestry magazine <>.

Lastly, if you’d like to share a little about the history you discovered in a cemetery, I’d love to hear it. Add your comments to the bottom of this post or drop me a line at And no, you don’t have to be related to the history you uncovered. In four years, I’ve learned a good story is just that. No matter who it’s about. Or where it’s found.

Jeanie Croasmun

Jeanie Croasmun has been working at while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...


  1. Al Cary

    Jeanie Croasmun

    My kids (2 girls) are all grown up and don’t really like cemeteries. Me though, I started really late in doing my ancestral research. I first look about me to make sure no one is in ear shot, and then I introduce myself to the person in the grave, and the reason for my being there. Only direct-in-line relatives get this special traetment.

    Cheers; Al Cary

  2. Robert Teeter

    I think that the articles are very helpful. I wonder why we members do not receive a subscription to Ancestry magazine when we subscribe to the service? When I joined the Southern California Genealogical Society I received a subscription to their journal. Even a short introductory subscription would be nice. The service you offer for members is very helpful, but you are one of the most expensive providers of this service. I appreciate the benefits you provide. Your customer support could stand improvement.

  3. Pat Secord

    Regardng the article “Learning-Six Feet Under” I have to say that I’ve never been fond of wandering around cemeteries. But ever since starting research on my ancestors/relatives, my husband and I have hit several cemeteries to look for gravesites-I no longer feel weird walking around in cemeteries. Standing and looking with awe at the gravesites of my great, great grandparents made me feel such a connection with them! And I’ve discovered that the cemetery I visited often with my mom to put flowers on the graves of her parents, is also where many of her relatives were buried-something I never knew.

  4. Charles Dudley Swasey

    I never knew one of my grandfathers he died before i was born. My mother took us to visit my fathers birth place in Barre,Vt. We then visited my Grandfathers grave site (i was 7 or 8 years old ). Well i was appalled my name was on the gravestone .not only once but twice.His name was Charles Dudley Swasey as well as his first born son who died an infant. Well when we got back to the house I was given a photo of another gravestone with my name on it .well yesterday i finally was able to solve the riddle .to make a long story short. The charles in the photo was the son of my great great grandfather. thanks to (civil war military records were wrong) HIS MOTHER applied for his pension in 1890 .25 years after his death.

  5. patricia arnold

    Can you tell me why I do not get the ancestry magazine, is this an extra cost. I paid for world delux.

  6. Al Cary

    I too had a conflict with the US GOV about my grandfather’s tombstone located at Jefferson Barracks Nationa Cemetery located in St. Louis. In the late 1980’s I discovered that my grandmother who was suppose to of been shown on the back of his tombstone was in fact not shown. After a few months of correspondence with the people in charge I finally won. They agreed that she was indeed in the grave site and they took steps to get a new tombstone, with him shown on the front and her on the rear. It had been like this since 1944.

  7. Joan Adkins

    I have been working on my ancestry for abt 6 yrs and have run out of cemeteries to go to… when i am at a cemetery I leave this world and find myself in their time. I get a feeling of peacefulness and closeness. YES, I talk to them also. I’d want them too talk to me, if it was turned around! I’ve probably been to 10-15 cemeteries. I say TRY IT!

  8. Ed Mahoney

    I have received my Great Grandfathers 1879 Bible from a fellow member of When
    our Family Trees Crossed, he emailed me. I have the “Trempe” family bible he said. I couldn’t believe it. After a sincere phone call, he offered it to me since I was a direct decendent. What a great day for me. It is now a treasured keepsake.

  9. Joyce Law

    My husband could not remember where his brother was buried as we had moved out of the area 25 years ago. We went searching for him. In the process I got interested in different cemeteries and have walked and recorded a lot of the names and locations for use on the internet.

  10. Marie Ventura

    I guess I was a wierd kid. The cemetery for Mobridge, Walworth Cty, South Dakota was close to my Aunt Jane’s house. Where several times as I was growing up, I was sent to live with her and my cousins.
    But my only resource for peace and quiet was when I went to the cemetery. I read the Headstones, cried for the baby who had a Huge
    Angle as it’s stone. and wondered about the lives of those who abided there.

    So I still think of them places of peace 70 years later.

  11. Peter Louwrens


    I must say that I agree with the expensive site. Yours is certainly the most costly. Secondly, your support is almost non-existant. My account was recently cancelled because I was informed that I had cancelled my subscription. When I queried it I was told to call your help line in the United States. I live in Africa so that was not a viable solution.

    However, I do believe your sites provide a fantastic wealth of information. A think that the focus on the USA is a bit of a problem. Not everybody originated there!!



  12. Jerri Griffith

    I actually found a group of family graves accidentally last summer. We had set out with several likely cemeteries programmed into our GPS. After being detoured by several miles we came upon a crossroads and saw a small church with an ancient graveyard behind it. We decided to get out and stretch our legs and make it our first “unofficial” stop of the day. To my surprise I immediately saw the family name in bold relief on one of the larger stones. With a little further investigation, we confirmed it was that of a great uncle, and next to his were those of two siblings and my maternal great-great grandparents! Now every time I pass a cemetery I can’t help but wonder…

  13. Jack Pickens

    Anyone who has ever “walked” a cemetery searching for an ancestor and felt the warmth of a “find” never forgets the feeling.

    I am 25 years (and 2900 names) into my family research and running out of time and health, but thanks to FTM can continue hopefully on most days on the project via computer snd email.

    Your article (and the responses) took me back to 1988 when I was “walking” the State Street Cemetery in Athens, Ohio; I was working that day with the best genealogist I have ever known, a lady named Mary Birchfield, who had been recommended to me by a local cemetery manager. We were searching, at Mary’s suggesstion, a cemetery known for having war veterans going back to the Rev. War. I was searching for my 4th g/g/father Jeremiah Burnham (1759-1839) of the Mass. Burnhams.

    Almost finished, and with no results, it began to rain and we had no umbrellas — being a gentleman,
    I yelled at Mary “we’d better quit before we get soaked” — to which she replied “We’ve only got 4 rows left to search, let’s go on” — so we did.

    Walking the next to last row I came upon an overturned tombstone. I’ve never walked past an overturned stone, before that day or since, so I leaned over and straightened it up into its place.

    You’ve already guessed it, I’m sure — the aged etching on the old grey stone read “Cpl. Jeremiah Burnam” with his dates and unit as well. Tears came to this old codger’s eyes as I yelled, “Mary, come over here — you’re not going to believe this”.

    She looked at the stone and said, “Jack, you’re the luckiest researcher I’ve ever known”, and from that day on she called me “Lucky” Jack. With the help of the county clerk’s office and FTM I have been able to trace his line back to England in 1642, along with numerous stories regarding the family.

    Thanks for the reminder — it made my day. I can’t get out these days, but I’m still looking for “stones”

    Lucky Jack

  14. Karen Hansen-Rey

    Jeanie – Thank you for your article – I have made a few cemetary visits over the past 2 years and attended a “cemetary tour” in the rain, 80 miles from home – it was fascinating and fun to be searching other than behind a computer – there are many cemeteries within a 100 mile radius from my home where I can gather information on several sides of my family tree – however, I find the task a but daunting – 1) to find the probable cemetary 2) make sure it is open to the public (I drove 2 hrs once to find one locked up), and 3) map out a trip with all the probable markers to find – I was hoping that ancestry would provide a “field” for researchers to list information that pertains just to burial site information and then provide a “tree” or listing(s) that would reflect family members located at each burial site(s) – 🙂

  15. Priscilla

    You should check out you can search cemeteries all over the world and search specific names. You can also post a request for a volunteer to photograph headstones.

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