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Cemetery Records: Family Genealogy Guide

Tracing Your Family’s History Through Cemetery Records In The US

Finding information on cemeteries and burials

What Are Cemetery Records?

Cemetery records contain information about the deceased person’s death and headstone. Depending on the cemetery, these records are typically collected and maintained by a church, the municipality, or a funeral home. However, others are operated by private companies or even fraternal orders.

Types Of Cemetery Records

Regardless of which entity runs the cemetery, they will always keep two types of records: burial records and headstone inscriptions.

Burial Records

This type of record details the actual burial event that took place in the cemetery. Burial records are typically written records but may also be digitized depending on what year it was collected. 

Each cemetery has its own way of recording burial events so the information included in these records may vary. However, you can generally count on burial records to include the following information:

  • Name of the deceased
  • Date of death
  • Date of burial
  • Most recent residence
  • Name of the person who performed the burial ceremony
  • Name of the undertaker
  • The religion they practiced, if any
  • Exact location of the grave within the cemetery
  • Names of other people interred in the same gravesite, if any
  • Transcription of the headstone inscription, if any

Headstone Inscriptions

A headstone inscription includes information regarding the deceased that is found on the physical tomb or gravestone. Generally, this will include the full name of the deceased and dates of birth and death. This may also include a title if they were, for example, a reverend, a doctor, or military personnel. 

The headstone may also include a short epitaph, which is a short text whose purpose is to honor the deceased. For example, it’s common for headstones belonging to Christians to have an inscription that quotes a particular verse from the Bible. 

Some inscriptions can also be something related to the person and their relationships with their loved ones. A person with children, for example, could have an epitaph that talks about them being a good father or mother.

How To Find Cemetery Records Online

There are many websites you can visit to find cemetery records. Some have information exclusively from burial records in the US, while some may have records from other countries as well. If you’re not sure where to start your search online, you can try the websites listed below:

  • Find A Grave is a community-powered cemetery records database that has been around for several decades. It has millions of US cemetery records, as well as some from the UK. 
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission: If the relative you are searching for happens to be military personnel, you can check if there’s a record of them on this website. It hosts 1.7 million burial records of military personnel who fought during the first and second World Wars.
  • Interment is a website that collects transcribed inscriptions from headstones all over the world. Users don’t have to pay anything to access these records and all information is sourced from the government, churches, as well as genealogy groups.

Planning Your Genealogy Research Through Cemetery Records

When researching your genealogy, it’s important to strategize a plan. Cemetery records are an invaluable source of information when studying your lineage. It becomes even more invaluable when you combine it with other sources of information.

Gather Information From Your Family And Others

The first thing you’ll want to do is to consult with family members or anyone who you think would have had a connection with the deceased. There could potentially be a lot of unrecorded information that was just passed down orally to younger generations that could be valuable to your search.

If the cemetery has a website or email, send them a message or make a call to their office and see if they can digitally send you a copy of the burial record.

Find And Examine Written Records

If you know exactly where the relative you are looking for is buried, then definitely try and get a hold of their burial record from the cemetery. Depending on how the cemetery structures its records, this could unlock a whole wealth of information about the relative you are looking for.

Aside from the burial record, you can also look for the death certificate issued by the hospital or funeral home.

Consider Visiting The Burial Locations

There is a wealth of information you can get just from making calls, sending emails, and searching online. However, there may be certain information at the burial location that hadn’t been recorded. You can learn a lot just by investigating the burial site itself.

Below are examples of questions you can ask yourself to guide your visit to the cemetery:

  • Where in the cemetery is the burial site located?
  • What is the condition of the headstone?
  • What does the inscription on the headstone say?
  • Is the grave located in a mausoleum?
  • Are there other family members interred near or next to the grave?

Before you visit burial locations, it’s important to do as much in-home research as possible. This way you don’t waste your time trying to find the burial site if you don’t know where it is exactly.