Genealogists are generally ahead of the curve when it comes to appreciating cemeteries because of the great information we can often find in them. However, sometimes locating your ancestor’s final resting place can present a challenge.
Your ancestor’s death record is a good place to start your search. Many death records provide the name of the cemetery in which the deceased was to be buried. Obituaries are another obvious source of burial information.
In cases where you don’t know the death date or have been unable to locate these records, going directly to the cemetery is another option—but to which cemetery? Start your search close to where your ancestor lived and check the cemeteries nearest your ancestor. Some religious sects maintain their own burial grounds.
However, your ancestor might not be buried as near to home as you’d think. As cities grew, sometimes the dead were moved to make more room for the living. An example of this is chronicled in the Encyclopedia of Chicago. In this article it describes the removal of bodies from Chicago’s City Cemetery, which was located in what is now Lincoln Park, to various other cemeteries.
As the cemeteries in larger cities were pushed to the outskirts and beyond city boundaries, there was also an increased need for transportation to the cemeteries. Often spur lines were created off railroads in the city and special funeral cars would transport the deceased and mourners to the cemetery. Click here to learn about the funeral car service offered by the Los Angeles [California] Railway.
In some cases, an ancestor may have been transported to an entirely different city or state for burial, perhaps with other family members. Since the transport of bodies was regulated because of the fear of infectious diseases, you may be able to locate body transit records or burial permits. Body transit records for New York City, 1859-1894 have been microfilmed and are available through the Municipal Archives of City of New York, as well as through the Family History Library. Check on the city, county, and state levels when seeking out these records. The Washington State Digital Library has McNeil Island Burial Transit Permits 1944-1961 online. The King County [Washington] Archive lists burial permits among its holdings as well.
You may even find that some of these records have been made available online. The Michigan USGenWeb Project has posted Lenawee County, Michigan, Fairfield Township Burial Transit Permits, 1940-1953 in its archives. (Click here to see the index and images.)
If you can get your hands on a good local map for the vicinity in which you are searching, you may find the cemeteries outlined on the map.
The U.S. Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) is a very useful tool for locating cemeteries and other features near where your ancestor lived. Click on “Search Domestic Names” and by entering the county name and state and selecting “cemetery” from the “Feature Class” drop-down menu, you can see a list of cemeteries for a particular county. From the list of results, you can click on each cemetery name for more information and to map the location using MapQuest and other mapping tools.
If you want to look at railroads near your ancestor’s home and what cemeteries were connected to that line, see the Railroad Maps Collection, 1828-1900 at the Library of Congress.
You may find your ancestor’s cemetery has an online index. Ancestry.com has more than two hundred cemetery databases among its collections, and some cemeteries are even posting their own indexes online. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York is a good example of this.
Genealogical societies are great when it comes to recording cemetery information. The Chicago Genealogical Society has just published a new book of Chicago Cemetery Records 1847-1863 and has published several other titles with information from area cemeteries. Check with societies in the areas in which your ancestor lived for similar publications or online databases.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Do you have a tip for locating ancestral graves? Please share it with us in the comments below.