Thursday, February 24, 2011

I Visit Dead People

I am obsessed with cemeteries. If you read this blog, you probably are, too, so I'm in good company.

Some people have an obsession with cars, or celebrities, or food, or geo-caching (don't ask). Mine is headstones.

Anytime I drive past a cemetery, I have to fight the urge to pull over and explore the grounds. It's like finding a "buried" treasure. I know you're rolling your eyes at this point, so enough with the graveyard puns -- for now.

Cemeteries can be tremendous sources of evidence for genealogists. Headstones can contain a wealth of information about an individual, such as names, dates, family members, birthplaces, and even brief notes about their personality or occupation. In addition, cemeteries where the grounds are still maintained frequently have a main office and office staff that can be helpful in locating records with more information on each plot and the individuals in each plot.

In addition to these sources of information, which require a physical visit or a phone call to the actual cemetery (neither of which is always possible), there are ways to get burial records online. Since there are literally thousands, I'm only going to mention a few of the big sites that are my go-to sources.

First, there is This my newest favorite for cemetery information. You can search by name, or you can browse their entire cemetery database by country, state, and county. You can upload information from headstones that you've transcribed and add them to their site for others to find. You can upload photos and contact other volunteers who have added information. You can also leave virtual flowers at any grave listed.

The second site I like to use is the USGenWeb tombstone project. This one has been around a bit longer; however, the layout isn't quite as user-friendly. This is another one where you can search by state, county, and then cemetery. However, for many U.S. states, still seems to have more records in terms of quantity. is another site that is searchable by location, and, as an added bonus, it also lists additional resources for death and burial records for the locale you are searching.

It's also helpful to remember that each locale can vary greatly as far as availability of online records. For example, Illinois has an Illinois Database Archives online which is searchable. It is not exhaustive by any means in terms of Illinois records, but it certainly has a lot there if you have an ancestor you're searching for in that state.

The best thing to do when you're hitting a "dead" end with a grave record is to Google the name of your locale and then "cemetery records" or something similar and see what comes up in the search results. And remember to try different search terms. For example, when I enter "Illinois burial records" on Google, I get a very different list of relevant sites than when I enter in "Illinois cemetery records."

As always, I encourage you, if you have the ability and availability, to contribute to some of these online volunteer projects. You never know who you might be able to help in their research by posting some transcribed headstones from a local cemetery, and it's likely that what YOU find online will be through the efforts of someone else.

Good luck, and happy "digging!"

Friday, February 4, 2011

Celebrity Genealogy Back on Primetime!

I have to admit that I'm not really into the whole reality television craze. Of course, this is coming from someone who is so fascinated by family history that driving past an old cemetery can make my whole week. However, that said, I will be seated on my sofa at 7pm this evening for NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" premier. My children get excited over Santa Claus. I get excited for this.

If you haven't seen it before, this show is a series showcasing various celebrities and their journeys of learning their family history. The research is done in partnership with

This season's celebrities are Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Vanessa Williams and Ashley Judd.

Part of the reason I find this series so fascinating is that it highlights some of the common roots we all share. We all have ancestors we are proud of, and some we'd like to keep hidden in the proverbial family attic. But we all came from somewhere, and it helps us to know and appreciate who we are and why we are who we are because of where we came from.

Last year's premier season of this show also generated a huge increase in genealogy interest across the country. I'm sure this season will be no different. We all benefit from that because the more of us genealogists there are out there looking into our family histories, the more people we can coordinate with and learn from.

Finally, as an added bonus (oh, yeah), will be sponsoring The Ultimate Family History Journey Sweepstakes with a grand prize of $20,000 in travel money, 8 hours of consultation with an expert genealogist, and a yearlong World Deluxe membership for the winner and 5 family members. 20 First Place prizes of an annual World Deluxe membership will also be awarded.

Okay, seriously, who would not want an all-expense paid trip abroad? I certainly wouldn't turn that down.

I know this is still the entertainment industry, but I think this is a well-produced show that generates interest in a great cause, and is a good reminder for us all that, celebrity or not, we are all people with more similarities than differences. Knowing our ancestry can help us learn from the mistakes of the past, while celebrating the heritage that has been passed onto us. So, turn on your televisions tonight at 8/7 central, and don't forget to enter the sweepstakes, too!

 Who Do You Think You Are Season 2 Sweepstakes