Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cemeteries and Their Place in Family History Research

Cemeteries are filled with valuable information, if you only pay attention.

The obituary and/or death certificate of an ancestor will usually mention where he or she is buried. Half of my family members in Wisconsin are buried in small plots that basically require a GPS to find amid corn fields and dairy cows.

The other half are buried in larger cemeteries with real live people who can help you locate your ancestors’ graves and give you background information from the paperwork on the plots. As I mentioned in my October 31, 2012, blog, that’s how I found out my g-g-grandmother had remarried and her death certificate was listed under her second husband’s surname.

Often, family groups are buried next to each other: the family matriarch and patriarch, their son and his wife, a son or daughter who never married, etc. You may find relatives you never knew existed, such as children who were born and died between the censuses, or your g-grandmother’s maiden name because according to the cemetery paperwork, her parents’ plot happens to be the next one over.

Charles Gordon
Died: June 28, 1866
Aged 1 yr and 8 mos.

Charles is my second great grand uncle. He was born and died between the 1860 and 1870 Censuses. His sister Elizabeth was my g-g-grandmother.

A client’s g-grandmother’s name was spelled differently in every census. It wasn't until I found her headstone that I discovered what her first name really was. In fact, because it was an unusual first name, I was able to track her all the way back to Norway. The years of her birth and death on her headstone also made it easier to locate her death certificate.

We all know about the 1917-1918 Spanish flu pandemic. An older cemetery is bound to include many flu victims, whose death dates are very close together. What if you notice that a large number of people died close together in a different year, including your family members? Was it another epidemic? A fire?

It may have happened so long ago that there are no official death certificates. If you can, check with the cemetery’s managers; they may be able to tell you what happened. If it’s one of those small, forgotten cemeteries, call the county historical society; they should have the answer.

But let me warn you, once you get curious about something, you become curious about everything.

LLet me help you find out what parts of history your family had a role in.

For more information on my Family History Research services, visit and click on Family History Research in the left-hand column.

Discover your roots and watch the branches of your family tree begin to grow.

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