Monday, January 27, 2014

CEMETERY RECORDS–What can they tell you? How do you use them?

That's me visiting my 3rd great grandmother
One of the most informative records I have used over the years are cemetery records.

They can provide a wealth of information.  

If you’ve been doing genealogy for any length of time, then you are familiar with Find A Grave and more recently Billion Graves.  On those sites you put in a name and search for your ancestor.  Or, you enter your own memorials.  These sites are very valuable and can tell us where someone is buried, when & where they were born & died, or link that person to other family members. And sometimes, you’ll even find bio information that will give you all kinds of leads.  

However, sometimes all you find is a memorial with very little information.


This is something I have been doing for years and I’ve found it to be very valuable.  Let’s say I find the name of the cemetery on a death certificate, memorial on FindAGrave or somewhere else online.  
Why would I call the cemetery?
  • To obtain the exact location of the grave – Lot, Section, Plot number etc.
  • To ask if their records indicate the cause of death.  Many times this is indicated on a cemetery record (especially the older ones)
  • To ask if their records indicate who purchased the plot or who currently owns it.
  • To inquire if there are other family members buried in that cemetery.
  • To ask if there is any correspondence attached to the record

Here are some records I have either received via email or obtained during a visit to various cemeteries.  The amount of information varies from place to place, but some of it is really a gold mine for a genealogist.

This card for John Doller gives us an address, date of death, age at death, cause of death, date of burial, location and the name of the funeral director
For Catherine Lindsay we get her residence, date & age at death, including months & days, cause of death, burial date, undertaker's name & grave location in the cemetery

This record was obtained from very large old cemetery books. This is my great grandmother, Bessie Lindsay
I had to photograph this large book in 3 sections.  But look at the great information in the record.  Name, funeral home, age, cause of death etc.

This page gives, the interment date & location, the name of the nearest relative and who it was that ordered the grave.  In this case it's my grandfather, H. W. Gould
So, what do you think?  Worth the effort to obtain cemetery information?  Absolutely!

  • Cemeteries are sometimes very busy, state your name & purpose and ask if they have time to assist you.  I tend to stay away from the phrase “I’m a genealogist.”  Believe me, there are some cemetery employees who have had bad experiences with pushy researchers.  I just say that I’m trying to find burial locations for some family members.
  • Often, I just get an email address & mail the my request to them.  I rarely have to wait longer than a day or two for a response.
  • If someone does take the time to help you, and many will, be sure you get the name of that person.  Make a note of who you spoke to and when.
  • Send a thank you card.  Yes, a real, handwritten note.  This was a tip given to me, by an experienced genealogist, when I first began researching.  I have had great results with this method.  You will often find out that other family members are in the same cemetery or one handled by the same office.  That employee will remember you if you’ve thanked them.  And guess what?  They will be more than willing to help you again.
Just sitting in front of your computer and finding records online can be very rewarding and yield great benefits.  But, at some point, we all have to begin looking elsewhere for information.  This is just one way that I have found to be very helpful over the years.

Here are a couple of related posts that you may find helpful.

Michigan Death Records – Where to find them

Ancestry acquires FindAGrave

Happy hunting,

Michigan Girl

Copyright ©  2014   Diane Gould Hall


  1. Love the idea of a handwritten Thank You card for their efforts. Nice touch!

  2. Very good write-up. I certainly love this website.

    Keep writing!

    My web blog

  3. I am new to genealogy and never thought to call the cemetery for more information. Thank you! Love the thank you notes - great idea!

    1. Jessica - Glad you liked the post. I love learning new things and I learn all the time. I have found cemetery records to be a wealth of information. I'm always aware when I call them of how busy they might be and I'm just another "one of those genealogists" asking questions. I tread lightly and most of the time get quite good responses. Especially if I allow them to call me back or email me, if they are busy or need to go in a basement or vault for a record.
      Thank for stopping by.

  4. I never knew you coud get all that information from the cemetery records. Very interesting and helpful. Thank you for posting it. I've included it in my NoteWorthy Reads post this week:

    1. Jo - I'm glad my post was helpful. That always makes me smile. And a big THANK YOU for including the post in your Noteworthy Reads, which also makes me smile.
      Thanks for stopping by :)


I look forward to reading your comments. If you have any connection to the people mentioned in this blog, please let me know. I write about mine and my husband's ancestors and would welcome new information or meeting a new cousin or two. Thanks for visiting and come back soon.