Finding the burial place of an ancestor can be one of the great hunts of genealogy.
It can also be one of the most frustrating parts of the research process. This
week we look at some ways to determine where your ancestor is buried and the
additional records that may be available. First, we will look at some records
that may indicate the ancestor's burial place.
For relatively recent burials, the death certificate should provide the relative's
final resting place. Bear in mind that the names of some cemeteries may have
changed over the years. Attempts to locate the death certificate should be
at the county or state level.
Your ancestor's obituary or death notice may provide information
on her place of burial. Even the name of the church or the officiating minister
may be a clue as to where the internment took place.
In some areas, records of burial permits were kept. These
records may be helpful if you are reasonably certain where your ancestor died
but you don't know the place of the burial. These records (if kept) are typically
created at the county or city level.
Is your ancestor buried next to his church? If so, the
church may have additional records on your ancestor, particularly a death or
a burial record. If you know your ancestor's denomination, were there particular
cemeteries in the area that catered to members of that faith? If you are not
certain of your ancestor's religious persuasion, are there clues in her background
that might make memberships in some denomination more likely than others? French-Canadians
tend to be Catholic, Germans tend to be Lutheran or Catholic, Swedes tend to
be Lutheran, Irish are typically not Lutheran, and so on. These are tendencies,
not hard and fast rules---there are always exceptions and a lone staunch Lutheran
on the frontier may easily attend the local Baptist, Methodist, or other church.
A Proximity Search
Look for your ancestor in cemeteries near where he
is last known to have lived. Remember if your ancestor “evaporated” that he
might have died where he last is known to have lived, or he might have moved
several states away to live with one of his children and died there. Consequently
your search for an ancestor's stone should include all those areas where his
If your ancestor was in the military service and
died on the battlefield, he may be buried in a military cemetery or in an unmarked
grave. This may be noted in his military service record.
Was your ancestor not even buried? I've got one whose body
was turned over to the Illinois Demonstrator's Association in the early 1900s.
This was noted on his death certificate. He has no known final resting place.
Some Finding Aids
The inscriptions of the stones of some cemeteries
have already been copied and may have been published. When using any type of
transcribed tombstone information, try to determine if the information you
are viewing is an actual transcription of the stone or if it is a listing of
burials in the cemetery. There is a difference. Keep in mind that some stones
might have been difficult, if not impossible, to read, and that other stones
might have been buried themselves and overlooked when the transcription was
completed. Once you know your ancestor is in a certain cemetery, it still may
be a good idea to view the stone yourself or see if you can get a picture.
Published transcriptions can be relatively
easy to locate even if they were published in a small quantity. Card catalogs
of the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov),
the Family History Library (www.familysearch.org),
the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library (http://acpl.lib.in.us),
and other libraries (including those in your region of interest) may contain
references to published transcriptions for the area under study. Keyword searches
in these card catalogs for "yourcounty county cemetery" or "yourcounty
county tombstone" should pull up some desired results. Searches of the
Family History Library Catalog should be for the specific county and state
Online cemetery transcriptions can frequently
be obtained via the County USGenWeb site (www.usgenweb.org)
or other geographically based genealogy pages. Searches for "cemeteryname
city state" at Google (www.google.com)
may also bring up additional references.
Not all transcriptions have been published;
many exist only in manuscript format. Locating these unpublished transcriptions
requires a little more work, but may be well worth the effort. The county historical
or genealogical society is the place to start this search, but regional and
state archives, state historical societies, and public and private libraries
within the region may also house these materials.
Some cemeteries keep excellent records. Others do not.
Generally speaking, one is less likely to find records for small, rural cemeteries.
Larger, more urban cemeteries may still not have extant records for the earlier
burials and lot owners. Those with family members buried in larger cemeteries
currently accepting new interments might find that locating some information
is as easy as making a phone call to the cemetery.
Those trying to locate records for a rural cemetery may have more difficulty.
In some areas, cemeteries that were once maintained by a church or a private
group of individuals may now be under township or other government maintenance,
or no maintenance at all. Local historical or genealogical societies may also
be able to provide information or at least give the name of a contact person
for the cemetery. Keep in mind that for some cemeteries, records of burials
and lot owners were never kept.
Specialized Finding Aids
There are a few specialized finding aids for
Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans,
ca. 1879-ca. 1903 (National Archives and Records Administration microfilm
publication number M1845) contains information on the burial location of thousands
of veterans. While 99% of these burials are from the Civil War, occasionally
the veteran of another war slips in (well, not literally). There is a card
for James Kile, a War of 1812 veteran, buried in Keithsburg, Illinois, in 1852.
In some states, lists of military burials were published, some have been reprinted,
and usually local historical or genealogical societies have copies or are aware
of their existence. Statewide finding aids (if available) are also included
in the appropriate state research guide from the Family History Library (www.familysearch.org).
Searches of various library card catalogs using the following subject headings
resulted in numerous matches of this kind of material:
United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Registers of dead
United States History War of 1898 Registers of dead
Readers are encouraged to alter the search terms for other wars and periods.
Performing these subject searches at online library catalogs like the Library
of Congress (www.loc.gov) or the
Allen County Public Library (www.acpl.lib.in.us)
resulted in several references. Those wishing to locate similar references
in the Family History Library Catalog (www.familysearch.org)
should locate the particular locality and then choose “Cemeteries” under that
geographic location. This should be done at least twice, once for the state
and once for the specific county.
Lastly, your ancestor might not have a tombstone or may never
have had a stone at all. This makes it rather difficult to find one! In some
cases, you may never find your ancestor's final resting place. I'm still looking
for Augusta Newman who died in White County, Indiana, in 1864 and for Peter
Bieger who died in Warsaw, Illinois, in 1855! I'm afraid that I'm going to
be looking for quite some time, too.
Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute
of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on
the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the
Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois
State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on
a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several
genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical
Computing. You can contact him via e-mail at email@example.com or
visit his website at www.rootdig.com,
but h e regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2004, MyFamily.com.