Robert K. & Christene G. Hill

Headstone of Robert Kater Hill and his wife Christene Hill.

Before beginning your cemetery research you will need to know which cemetery your ancestor is buried in. This article will assume you already have that part of the research puzzle completed.

Do not expect to trot off to the cemetery unprepared, walking around quickly, and finding your ancestor’s grave by chance. Most of the time it is far more difficult though sometimes a bit of luck is involved. Cemetery research may mean you will spend hours wondering back and forth, at some point possible forgetting what rows you have already covered and having to back track. Do small parts of the cemetery at a time so you don’t get confused.

The first thing you will consider is what clothes to wear for this research trip. Common sense dictates you dress casually and for the weather. You will want to visit the cemetery when there is less chance of overgrown weeds, tall grasses and bushes. Fall is a great time to do family history research outside. Early Spring is also good on days that are warm but not hot. Summer can get brutal with the heat and of course winter is too cold. In warm weather seasons, chiggers, ticks and snakes can be a concern if you are walking in a more private cemetery. Cemetery ground is usually uneven and can easy cause falls from rocks, bumps and sunken graves.

When doing cemetery research for genealogy purposes it is recommended you do not go to the cemetery alone or near dark. There is usually no one in authority watching over cemeteries so you may feel strangely alone and vulnerable. Once when we visited a cemetery in the hills of remote Kentucky we were taunted by a group of young men who were visibly intoxicated. Be prepared for these incidents, whatever that takes. If possible have a cell phone, and a GPS, with you and make sure someone knows where you went. Bring along water and snacks if you expect a hot or long journey.Pack the necessary items for this type of genealogy adventure (and it really is one). We typically prepare a back pack, we have specifically for cemetery research, with a small shovel, whisk broom, paper towels, a spray bottle of water, gloves, bug spray, suntan lotion, a small emergency kit and items to do a grave rubbing. A walking stick is not a bad idea. We keep our “cemetery” backpack in our car at all times. Don’t forget a hat and sun glasses. Of course you will need one of the most important genealogy tools, a camera!

If available, visit the cemetery caretaker or manger’s office to get any maps and other information (history) of the cemetery. We found this to be of great help in finding graves quickly, especially in the very large cemeteries. Often they can tell you exactly where your ancestry is buried. Ask permission if you are doing gravestone rubbings. A grave map will speed up your day. Usually you have to call in advance to get an appointment or at least the hours when someone will be in. Cemetery caretakers are not always easy to work with or track down.

Expect the unexpected. It is not unusual to visit a cemetery which supposedly has the remains of your ancestor according to some record and to never find the grave site. Not everyone was buried with a headstone. Headstones also sometimes sink in the ground or are unreadable. Many cemeteries, if not most older ones, do not have complete records of who is buried there.

Cemetery research for genealogy information and headstone hunting are adventures that any genealogist will eventually want to get involved in. Once you have tried it you will be addicted to this more hands on form of family history research.


Source by Mark D Jordan