Cemetery research is a crucial family history skill. Tombstones are monuments to our ancestors lives and may have key genealogical clues engraved in the stone. Follow these four steps to finding your ancestors’ burial places and the records that complement them.
Many of my ancestors are buried just two miles from my house in Round Hill Cemetery in Marion, Virginia. I drive by the cemetery each day, as I take my daughters to school. I never pass by without glancing up at the hallowed ground which holds the remains of those who came before me. The sun perfectly illuminates their resting place each morning and a majestic tree stands at the very top of the hill–a living monument to the lives they led in the town where I now raise my own family.
It is an emotional experience to stand in the place where an ancestor’s remains have been laid to rest. Each time I visit the grave of my grandma, I have a vision of a family standing around a casket on a bitter cold day in March. It was a just few days before the official start of spring, but it was the dead of winter to me. That ground is sacred to me, now. Each time I visit, I am transported back in time to that day. A wound is re-opened for a moment, but the moment is fleeting because I quickly remember her life, not her death. I remember the stories she told, the service her hands rendered to her family and, most importantly, the love that transcends time and even the icy grip of death. Death truly loses its “sting” as we stand before a monument of stone and see beyond to the life it represents. Scenes like this one have played out at each grave.
I am reminded of this quote from Fear Nothing, a Dean Koontz book, whenever I visit the cemetery: “The trunks of six giant oaks rise like columns supporting a ceiling formed by their interlocking crowns. In the quiet space below, is laid out an aisle similar to those in any library. The gravestones are like rows of books bearing the names of those whose names have been blotted from the pages of life; who have been forgotten elsewhere but are remembered here.”
I have often gone to my ancestors’ resting places to take pictures of headstones and search for relatives I may have missed in the past. It seems like each time I visit, I notice something new. This library of marble holds many clues that have helped me break down brick walls in my family history research. These clues have been there, etched in stone, for decades. It wasn’t until I recognized how to read the clues that I began to understand the importance of cemeteries in family history research. These resting places have become much more to me than merely a place to go and offer a bouquet of flowers. There are answers waiting to be discovered.
The key to getting the answers is knowing which questions to ask. In my experience, the best genealogists are not the ones with the best cameras, the best software, or the best gadgets–they are the ones with the best questions. Curiosity is the most important tool to the successful genealogist. The next time you find yourself in a library of marble, take a few moments to let your curiosity run wild. “Who are the people surrounding my family members? What are their stories? What do the etchings on their headstones mean?” That curiosity will lead to the most remarkable discoveries and you will see for yourself how a piece of marble truly can break down a brick wall. Below I’ve outlined the steps for finding family cemeteries and which questions you should be asking when you get there. Get inspired by my own examples of breaking down brick walls, and implement these methods I used for your own success!”
Cemetery research step #1: Identify the cemetery
The first step in cemetery research is to identify the name of the cemetery where an ancestor was buried. The best places to start looking are death certificates, funeral home records and obituaries. Each one of these records should contain the name of the cemetery where a family member was buried. We sometimes fail to look beyond the names and dates on death certificates. If we get in the habit of taking the time to absorb all of the information on these important documents, we will find genealogical treasure.
Sometimes, the death certificate will not give us the name of the cemetery. This was the case with my great-grandmother, Mollie Weimer Overbay. I was frustrated to see that the death certificate only indicated that she was buried, as opposed to cremated or removed to another location. While the certificate did not provide me with the name of a cemetery, it did offer the name of the funeral director: W.B. Seaver.
Luckily, I was able to follow this lead to the local funeral home. Within their records, I discovered that she was buried in Round Hill Cemetery, along with many of my other ancestors.
Cemetery research step #2: Locate the cemetery
Once you have located the name of the cemetery, several resources can guide you to its location. Three helpful websites are listed below. Which you choose may depend on personal preference or familiarity but also on which site seems to have more records for the locales of most interest to you.
1. One of my favorite online resources is Find A Grave. This website allows you to search for cemeteries all over the world. At the home page, click on the Cemeteries tab (#1, below). Then enter the name or location of the cemetery (#2). In this screenshot, you can see part of the Google Maps interface that shows you the exact location of the cemetery, should you want to visit in person:
Find A Grave also has pictures of many of the headstones located within cemeteries.
2. Billion Graves allows users to collect photos of headstones by using an iPhone/Android camera app. The app, available on Google Play and the App Store (for iPhone and iPad), tags the photos with the GPS location and, essentially, maps the cemetery as headstones are added. Search for cemetery locations using the Billion Graves app or on the website by selecting the “Cemetery Search” option and then entering the name of the cemetery or a known address (to see it on Google Maps):
3. Interment.net can also be helpful. From the home page, scroll down just a little until you see “Browse Cemetery Records by Region.” This can be especially helpful if you’re looking for all records within a specific county or other region (it’s not quite as useful if you’re trying to locate all cemeteries within a certain radius of a location, regardless of local boundaries).
Get more help! The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide contains detailed step-by-steps for using FindAGrave and BillionsGraves, plus guides for understanding tombstone epitaphs and symbol meanings.
In addition to these resources, it is essential to contact the local library, genealogical society, and/or historical society where your ancestors are buried. These organizations are well-known for maintaining detailed listings of local cemeteries within their collections. For instance, within Smyth County (where I live) there is a four-volume set of books that contains the work of two local historians, Mack and Kenny Sturgill. They spent several years mapping local cemeteries and collecting the names on all of the headstones. Although these books were completed in the 1990s, the information is still valuable to genealogists. Detailed driving directions were given to help future researchers locate cemeteries that would otherwise be difficult to locate. Many of them are on private property and even in the middle of cow pastures or wooded areas. Furthermore, some of the headstones that were legible in the 1990s have now become difficult to decipher due to weathering or have altogether disappeared. It is likely that the counties in which you are conducting cemetery research offer similar resources.
Cemetery research step #3: Prepare for a visit
Once you have found the cemetery you want to visit, you will want to take the following items along with you to make the most of your visit:
pair of gloves
notebook and pen
You may also want to use a damp cloth to bring out the carvings on headstones. A side note: if you are like me and have an aversion to snakes, you will either choose to go on cemetery expeditions during the winter, or you will invest in a pair of snake chaps.
Cemetery research step #4: Visit and search for clues
This headstone shows something unusual: the couple’s ham radio call signs (the codes engraved just below their names).
The headstones found in cemeteries can reveal much about your family. You will find more than birth and death dates. If you look closely, you will discover symbols related to military service and religious beliefs, maiden names of the women in your family, and you may even find family members that you never knew about. Many times, you will find children buried in the family plot. Look around to see who is buried near your ancestors. It is likely that you will find connections to other family members when you are visiting the cemetery. These connections may lead you to break down long-standing brick walls within your family history.
In my own experience, there have been several instances in which cemetery research has helped shed light on a family mystery. I had grown up hearing that there were members of our family who had fought in the Civil War. Who were these men? What experiences did they have during the war? Where had they fought?
The answers to these questions came as the result of a visit to the cemetery. I had gone to Round Hill Cemetery to photograph the headstones of my Weimer ancestors. As I worked my way down the row, I encountered an unfamiliar name—William Henry Wymer. At the top of his headstone, there was a Southern Cross of Honor—a symbol used to denote a soldier who fought during the Civil War. Below his name was the following inscription: “Co. A, 6 VA RES, C.S.A:”
When I went home that afternoon, I began to search for more details. With some census research, I learned that he was the uncle of my great-grandmother, Mollie Weimer Overbay. Upon confirming his relationship to our family, I began searching for a pension application for his wife, Rhoda:
The application had been submitted in 1926 and told the story of William’s life. Among other things, I learned the answers to my questions about his service during the Civil War. His wife indicated that he enlisted during the last year of the war and was present during a well-known battle in our county—the Battle of Saltville. I am sure that my great-grandmother had grown up listening to tales of this battle and William’s experience during the war. The details of the story had been lost but were now re-discovered thanks to a trip to the cemetery.
Subtle clues like this one await you as you search out your own ancestors. The next time you make a trip to one of these libraries of marble, take a few moments to look closely at the clues that surround you. They may not be obvious, but they are there, waiting for your curiosity to uncover them. So, bring your cameras, your gloves, and your grass clippers to the cemetery on your next visit—but don’t forget to bring your questions and your ability to perceive the minute details, as you stand beneath the towering trees, among the rows of marble, waiting to offer up their long-held secrets.
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If you’re looking for cemetery records, you’re in luck! This week there have been massive updates to Find A Grave’s global databases at Ancestry.com. But why search Find A Grave at Ancestry.com? We can think of 3 good reasons.
Find A Grave at Ancestry.com: Updated Collections
Did you know you can use Google Earth to find cemeteries? Click here to learn how.
The following Find A Grave collections have all been updated to Ancestry.com, where they can be linked directly to your tree:
Global, Index for Burials at Sea and other Select Burial Locations, 1300s-Current
If there’s a specific grave you’re looking for, ask Find a Grave to help! Click here to learn how to submit a photo request to both Find a Grave and Billion Graves.
Why Use Find A Grave at Ancestry.com?
Sunny Morton, Genealogy Giants Guru
Find A Grave is a free website with crowd-sourced tombstone images and transcriptions from cemeteries all over the world. Last we checked, they boast 162 million grave records! Their catalog of cemeteries tops 400,000, spread out over 200 different countries, and they have at least a partial listing of graves for well over half of these (over 250,000).
So why would you go to Ancestry.com to search records that are already free at Find A Grave? Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton, our resident expert on the giant genealogy websites, says:
“If you’re already an Ancestry.com subscriber, searching Find A Grave from within Ancestry.com may be a good choice for these three reasons:
1. One-stop searching. You’re already searching in Ancestry.com: you don’t need to remember to switch over to search Find A Grave separately for each ancestor.
2. Ancestry.com’s search tool. Find A Grave has a nice but basic search tool. It’s pickier about the search results it returns: does the spelling match? And is a potential result in the exact place you requested? (If you search a specific county, Find A Grave will only return results from that county–not in an adjacent county, across the state line, or even across the country where an ancestor may have been interred.) Lacey has a great example below.
From Lacey: Here’s a search of my 3X great grandfather at Find A Grave:
Unfortunately, no results:
I then hopped over to Ancestry, went to the card catalog, and searched the U.S. Find A Grave Index:
Turns out there was an extra “t” on his surname (see results below). I didn’t search on a partial name because I’ve never come across a different spelling of his before, and I certainly didn’t expect to see one on his tombstone! But sure enough, the name is not spelled as it had been throughout his life. It’s awfully nice that Ancestry could find it:
Ancestry.com is much more forgiving and flexible about spelling and places. It will return search result possibilities that don’t have to match exactly. As you can see from the screen shots above, Ancestry offers more fields to enter, including relatives’ names (and people are often buried with relatives), a more detailed place field, and keywords.
3. Tree-building ease. If you build your tree on Ancestry.com, it’s easy to attach Find A Grave search results to your ancestor’s tree profiles. If you search separately at Find A Grave, you have to create a separate source citation to attach to your tree.” (Note: hopefully, if you’re building your tree on Ancestry.com, you’re syncing it to your own software. RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker will both sync to your Ancestry tree–click here to see why Lisa Louise Cooke prefers RootsMagic.)
More Cemetery Resources
Get detailed step-by-steps for using Find A Grave and Billion Graves, plus guides for understanding tombstone epitaphs and symbol meanings in this brand new book: The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide. Discover tools for locating tombstones, tips for traipsing through cemeteries, an at-a-glance guide to frequently used gravestone icons, and practical strategies for on-the-ground research.Use coupon code GEMS17 for an extra 10% off! *Coupon valid through 12/31/17.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!
Thousands of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps and a national Civil War burial database are among new genealogy records online. Also: newspapers in Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania; vital records for Idaho, Utah, and Washington; Catholic parish records for the Archdiocese of Boston; Maine cemetery plans; New Hampshire Civil War records and New York passenger arrivals.
Breaking news! The Library of Congress has put online nearly 25,000 additional Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps–and more are coming! Over the next three years, more will be added monthly until all 50 states are covered from the 1880s through the 1960s.
Sanborn maps show detailed information about neighborhoods, buildings, roads and more for thousands of towns in the U.S. and beyond. A sizable collection of pre-1900 Sanborn maps are already online at the Library of Congress (use the above link). Watch the short video below to learn more about them. The full length class is available to Genealogy Gems Premium Members.
Civil War burials. Ancestry.com’s new database, U.S., Civil War Roll of Honor, 1861-1865, lists over 203,000 deceased Civil War soldiers interred in U.S. cemeteries. “Records in this database are organized first by volume and then by burial place,” says the collection description. Entries “may contain the name of soldier, age, death date, burial place, cemetery, rank and regiment.”
Newspapers. We’ve noticed the following new digital newspaper content online recently:
Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania: Newspapers.com recently added or updated newspaper content for the following newspapers (with coverage shown): Chicago Tribune (1849-2016), Fort Lauderdale News (1911-1991), South Florida Sun Sentinel (1981-2017) and the Morning Call [Allentown, PA] (1895-2017). (With a Newspapers.com Basic subscription, you can see issues through 1922; a Publisher Extra subscription is required to access issues from 1923 onward.)
Hawaii: Newspaper content has been recently added to the Papakilo Database, an online archive of The Office of Hawaiian Affairs. The collection currently contains nearly 12,000 issues from 48 different publications, with a total of 379,918 articles. Coverage spans from 1834 to 1980.
Louisiana: A New Orleans feminist newspaper is now available online at Tulane University’s digital library. An online description says: “Distaff was the first and only feminist newspaper published in New Orleans….Distaff served as a forum for women’s voices in politics, activism, and the arts….A preview issue was published in 1973 and the newspaper continued to be published until 1982. There was a hiatus in publication from 1976-1978.”
Maine cemetery plans. “Many Maine cemeteries have plans originally created courtesy of the Works Progress Administration, which reside at the Maine State Archives,” states a recent post at Emily’s Genealogy Blog at the Bangor Daily News website. The post advises us that all of them–nearly 550–are now viewable online at DigitalMaine.com (search for WPA cemetery plans). “These plans are great for locating veterans; some graves are coded by the war of service,” advises the post. “With such an item in hand one could also visit the appropriate town clerk and locate a civilian’s burial as well, I should think.” Thanks for that tip, Emily!
Massachusetts Catholic church records. The New England Historic Genealogical Society (AmericanAncestors.org) has added 13 new volumes to its browse-only collection, Massachusetts Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records, 1789-1900. “This addition, drawn from the collections of St. James the Greater in modern-day Chinatown, includes the largest volume we’ve scanned yet–1,035 pages,” says an NEHGS announcement. The collection description states that an index is being created and will be available to site members in the future.
New Hampshire Civil War records. The free site FamilySearch.org has added about 25,000 indexed names to its collection of New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866. The collection contains an “index and images of Civil War enlistment papers, muster in and out rolls of New Hampshire Regiments and pension records acquired from the New Hampshire state archives.”
New York passenger lists. FamilySearch.org has added nearly 1.2 million indexed names to the database, New York Book Indexes to Passenger Lists, 1906-1942. According to the collection description, names are taken from “books of indexes to passenger manifests for the port of New York. The indexes are grouped by shipping line and arranged chronologically by date of arrival.”
Utah birth certificates. Nearly 33,000 names have been added to an existing FamilySearch database, Utah, Birth Certificates, 1903-1914. “This collection consists of an index and images to birth certificates acquired from the Utah State Archives,” says the site. “The records are arranged by year, county, and month within a numerical arrangement by box and folder number. Many of these volumes have indexes at the beginning or end.”
Sanborn maps are a rich resource for genealogy–but they’re just one kind of map that can lead to genealogical gems! Lisa Louise Cooke teaches tons of strategies for using maps to chart your family history in her Genealogy Gems Premium video series. Discover these for yourself with a Genealogy Gems Premium website membership.
Thanks for sharing this great news on Sanborn maps and more with your genealogy friends!
Have you ever brought back a favorite family tradition from your childhood? I did that with a favorite Memorial Day tradition–revived with a little help from YouTube.
Deep in the hollows of Virginia lived ‘Big Grandma’ with her nine children. She was a mountain woman, schooled only in the herbs she could sell for money. Celebrations were few, but Decoration Day was special. She would gather her children together to make crepe paper flowers and then hike up the mountain to lay them on the graves of loved ones.
This year, I revived this tradition by teaching her great-grandchildren the art of making crepe paper flowers for Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day.) It wasn’t easy. My mother hadn’t made crepe paper flowers with us since I was 10 years old!
First, we had to find the crepe paper. I tried using crepe paper streamers, but the paper was too delicate and not stretchy enough. Crepe paper is unique. It is strong and very stretchy which lends to the realistic shape of petals and leaves. With a little help from Google, I found PaperMart, an online store that sells rolls of colorful crepe paper for $1.93 a roll. Each roll is 8 feet long and 19 inches wide. A roll this big will create bouquets of lovely flowers!
I ordered a variety of colors for petals, some green for the leaves, and yellow for the middles. Floral stem wire, floral stem tape, paddle wire in 24 gauge, and tacky glue are other must-haves.
Without Grandma around, it was left to me and Mom to remember how to make each type of petal. YouTube to the rescue! With videos like the one below, we were able to re-teach ourselves the techniques for creating beautiful roses, peonies, morning glory, and mums. (Click here to read more ideas on using YouTube for family history research.)
After family dinner, we gathered together as mothers, sisters, and cousins to laugh and giggle as we tried to create each piece. I was able to share with the next generation the story of Decoration Day in the “holler.” Many of the young ones asked, “Why can’t we just buy the flowers?” I am sure it would have been easier and quite a bit quicker to buy flowers, but I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to share this tradition with them for the world.
This week, we gathered as an extended family to place our crepe paper flowers on the graves of our ancestors. You know what? When we came to Big Grandma’s grave, all the children wanted their flowers to be placed there. They remembered! My heart was full and I could imagine Grandma looking down at all these little children as they were following in her footsteps.
A Memorial Day tradition like this is a wonderful way to teach family history to our children. Other ideas include learning a hobby that our ancestor enjoyed. Several years back, I decided I wanted to learn to play the guitar like my uncles did. It was their favorite past time to get out the guitars for an old-fashioned singin’ after Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. The family would gather in the living room to sing favorites like “Amazing Grace,” “When the Roll is Called up Yonder,” and “Jesus is Coming Soon.” A new guitar and YouTube practice tutorials and I was strumming along with them at the family reunion.
With today’s easy access to online tutorials and videos, you can learn and share your ancestors’ lives in this unique and personal way. Pick something today and share your favorite family traditions and past times with your loved ones.
On July 30, 2016, in honor of the veterans of the Armed Forces, BillionGraves and the Boy Scouts of America will host a nationwide service project, Finding the Fallen. Here’s what you need to know to get involved.
Finding the Fallen is the perfect project for youth of all ages, especially your High School Seniors who need to complete service hours for graduation. By joining the project, you and your youth will serve these heroes by photographing and logging the GPS locations of the headstones in our local and national cemeteries and then uploading them to BillionGraves.com.
BillionGraves works with a community approach and they need everyone’s help to make this a successful event! Why not make it a day of friends, family, and service? To organize yourself and your friends, you will need to create a free account at BillionGraves.com and then visit https://billiongraves.com/finding-the-fallen. You can choose to participate as a Boy Scout group, a group of friends, or as an individual.
Once you have clicked SIGN UP, you will be sent an email with directions for the next steps. In the meantime, you will want to download the free BillionGraves.com app to your smartphone or mobile device. If you need a little help doing that, click here to follow step-by-step instructions.
THE DAY OF THE EVENT
The BillionGraves app helps volunteers to locate cemeteries in their area. When viewing the BillionGraves app home page, select the Cemeteries icon and then the Show Nearest option. This will provide a list of local and national cemeteries in the area. Though the national cemeteries are particularly encouraged for this event, there are always members of the military buried in our local cemeteries, too. If you do not have a national cemetery nearby, you are welcome to visit your local cemetery. Remember, many military graves are marked with bronze plaques next to the headstone, or some buy bulk medication online diazepam 10mg local cemeteries have a special plot for military burials.
When you visit the cemetery on July 30th, first click the Cemetery icon on the BillionGraves app. You can search for the cemetery by name or just click Show Nearest. When you choose Show Nearest, a list of nearby cemeteries will appear and you can choose the one you are in. You will notice a number indicating how many images have been taken of that particular cemetery. Select the small map icon on the bottom right corner of the screen and it will show you (in real time!) which headstones have already been photographed in that cemetery.
Now, return to the app homepage and click the camera icon and go! Point the camera at each individual headstone and avoid wide shots that include other graves. Just move from marker to marker and click as many as you want. You might want to go a step further and bring a rag or broom with you to clean off any overgrowth on the headstone or marker.
Remember, if images have already been taken in the cemetery, orange markers will reveal the location of those particular graves. Once you have completed taking pictures in the cemetery of your choice, return to the app homepage. Now, click on the Photos icon and upload your images by following the prompts. The BillionGraves app will immediately indicate the location of those grave photos. This will help others coming behind you to not duplicate the work.
With your time and the use of a cell phone, you can help preserve the memory of a soldier and have some very meaningful service hours for high school graduation requirements.
Be sure to shoot a couple selfies and group photos to commemorate your fun day! We would love to see them, so stop by our Genealogy Gems Facebook Page and upload them there.
Cemetery records are a great alternative when you can’t find a death record. Here’s how to find them!
Genealogists are always on the hunt for records about the deaths of their ancestors. Death records sometimes offer a cause of death, birth information, and parents’ names. However, when a death record cannot be found, was never created, or was lost in a disaster, where should we look next? The cemetery, of course!
Genealogy Gems reader Brenda wrote us the following message:
My father and I were visiting the cemeteries in Preble County, Ohio. We decided to take a drive down Lock Road, which is named for my ancestors. We visited the home of my two times great-grandparents, Michael and Eliza Ann Lock. While visiting with the new home owner, they mentioned the tombstone located in the fence row behind the barn. The tombstone said “Eliza wife of Michael Lock.” The tombstone is hard to read, but I was also able to make out a “13” engraved on it and I know she died August 13, 1884. My problem is that there is also a tombstone listing her with her husband who died November 21, 1928 and a separate marker that says “Mother” marking a plot in Roselawn Cemetery in Lewisburg, Ohio. Would they have moved her body when her husband died or is she still buried on the homestead? I found records at the Preble County Library that references Eliza Lock and the cemetery plot in the Roselawn Cemetery. How do I know where she is actually buried?
Just short of ground penetrating radar and exhuming the body, we may never know for sure where someone is buried. There are some things we can do, however, to get the best answer possible and maybe find some new clues in the process.
Burial Locations of the Past
According to Ohio laws in 1884, burial regulations were made on the township or village level. Further, it was permissible to bury a body within 200 yards of a dwelling if the home owner gave permission. [Research tip:To search the law books of a targeted area, search Google Books with a keyword phrase like Ohio laws 1884.]
It was not uncommon to bury a person on the family farm in the old days. Many people had their own family cemeteries on their property. In fact, some states still allow private burials even today. In Ohio, a person seeking to have a private burial on their property should contact the county clerk. Read more about the current Ohio burial laws here.
Theory #1: Eliza was buried at the farm and a marker was placed on her grave. Her husband died in 1928 and was buried in Roselawn Cemetery. The family decided to place a marker that had both of their names on it, even though Eliza’s body was left at the farm.
Theory #2: Eliza was buried at the farm and a marker was placed on her grave. Her husband died in 1928 and was buried in Roselawn Cemetery. The family moved Eliza’s body to the same plot in Roselawn and had a stone made for both of them.
Theory #3: Eliza was buried at Roselawn Cemetery and a small stone was placed to mark the grave. Then, forty-four years later when Michael died, the family removed the original stone and replaced it with a new one which was inscribed with both of their names. What did the family do with the old marker for Eliza? They took it home to the farm as a memento.
Using Cemetery Records to Confirm A Theory
We can check the burial or cemetery records for Roselawn Cemetery to determine who is buried in the plot of Michael Lock, who purchased the plot, and maybe some more helpful hints.
Cemetery records can usually be found in a cemetery office, a library, online, or in many cases, the offices or home of the township trustees.
First, Google the cemetery name and get a phone number. When calling the cemetery office, be ready with the name of the individual and the death date if known. If a record is found, ask for a copy to be sent to you and be sure to offer to pay the cost of mailing it to you.
If you are unable to reach anyone in the cemetery office, try a quick online search. Many local county organizations are digitizing and indexing these records to put online. I searched for “Preble County Ohio genealogy,” and found a website dedicated to historical and genealogical records for Preble county.
A quick search for Eliza Lock provided a hit!
I noticed that there was a plot location and a death date, but not a burial date like I had seen on Michael’s index card. Michael’s card had two dates.
I checked many other cemetery records in this database. Several records created around the same time as Eliza’s death in 1884 also had no burial date. At first, I wondered if a record not having a burial date meant that the body wasn’t actually buried there. However, there were far too many records that did not include a burial date for this to be true.
I also noticed that this index card was a digital image and I wondered if it was created from some other source. It even seemed to have been altered with white-out. As with all genealogy research, if there is an original source, it should be found. In this case, I want to find out where these index cards came from. Were they created by someone who was looking at a ledger book? If so, then I want to see or view an image from the ledger book.
Locating the Original Cemetery Record Source
Sources come in two varieties – an original source and a derivative source. An original source is the one created at the time of the event. A derivative source is a record created later from the original, such as a transcription or abstraction. When a derivative is made, there is room for errors. This is one reason it is important to find the original source if at all possible. When it is not possible, you can use the derivative source as your proof, but you would indicate that it was a derivative and not an original.
Since this index was found at the library website, I gave them a call first. The Preble County Room assistant told me that the images were taken directly from the files held at the cemetery (the original source). The cemetery kept little index cards as their records. Volunteers later digitized those cards and uploaded them to the website (copy of an original source). According to the person I spoke to, there is no other ledger or record book that they know of. She did tell me that the image on the internet is only the top half of the digitized record (an abstract). This is yet another reason to discover how a record was made. If I had assumed this was the original record in its entirety, I would have missed some important clues.
She happily emailed me the full image of the index card (said to be a digital image of the original index card) and look what we see! [See image below]
The full record held a lot more information. When I compared the lot number of Michael and Eliza, they were the same. According to this cemetery record, it seems that Eliza’s body is buried in the same plot as her husband at the cemetery. I speculate that when Michael died, the family decided to remove the original tombstone marking Eliza’s grave, put up a new one in its stead, and take the old tombstone back home instead of discarding it.
Cemetery records are a great asset to any family history research and can often hold new information. Start today and see what you can find!
Research Tip: Did you know that in many small Ohio townships, the cemetery record books may be at the home or office of a local township trustee? The cemeteries sometimes fall under the township responsibilities, instead of county or village. In my own township, the original cemetery books were once held by the local funeral director. Now, they are held by a township trustee who is in charge of the cemeteries. You can find the names of township trustees by performing a Google search like Harrison Township Preble County Ohio township trustees.