Family & Local Histories


From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 6/16/2004

No Stone to Leave Unturned

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.

Death Certificate
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.

Burial Permits
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.

Church Records
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 children lived.

Battlefield Burial
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.

No Burial
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
Published transcriptions can be relatively easy to locate even if they were published in a small quantity. Card catalogs of the Library of Congress (, the Family History Library (, the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library (, 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 of interest.

Online Transcriptions
Online cemetery transcriptions can frequently be obtained via the County USGenWeb site ( or other geographically based genealogy pages. Searches for "cemeteryname city state" at Google ( may also bring up additional references.

Uupublished Transcriptions
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.

Sexton's Records
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 burial information.

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 (

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 ( or the Allen County Public Library ( resulted in several references. Those wishing to locate similar references in the Family History Library Catalog ( 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.

No Stone
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 or visit his website at, but h e regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2004,

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