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!"

1 comment:

Golden One said...

Hi Jessica. got a computer that works. Thanks for the great info on cemeteries. All my old gen. files still lost on my old hard drive, so I'm starting over until I can figure out a way to save them. Darren's fiancee is Amber Johnson so we may have 2 Amber Halls in the family.