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Monday, July 18, 2016

How Do I Find My Ancestor's Cemetery?

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The grave of Anderson Chick (1860-1903) and Elena Coleman Chick (1860-1933), Seekwell Baptist Church in Maybinton, South Carolina

Many family historians have had the experience of walking the cemetery where their ancestor was buried. If your family did not migrate far from where your roots began, you may already know this information. Perhaps you go often to clean and decorate the grave. This series will help beginning researchers who are coming forward desiring to know how they can discover the ancestor’s cemetery.

Ask a relative
The easiest way to learn where an ancestor was buried is to ask the eldest members in your family about the cemeteries they used during your ancestor’s life. Perhaps you will be fortunate enough that they will be able to remember the funeral and burial.

Many families have silent caretakers of the older graves in the family. They visit faithfully on holidays to clean and leave a plant or flower. In parts of the South this is very common, and cemetery rules allow for items to be lovingly left near the headstones long after each visit.
Find out if you have family members who help with the upkeep of family graves, and ask for a tour the next time they go.

Newspaper obituaries
Obituaries in newspapers were once even more common than they are now. It cost less to submit them. If you do not know the exact date of death for your ancestor, it is possible that you still can locate this information and discover the cemetery.

Contact the local library in the area where your ancestor lived to see if they have a newspaper obituary index. You may find your ancestor’s name in the index which will lead you to the original submission. Much more information can be gleaned from the article than you will find in an index.

You may discover:
  • death date
  • funeral home
  • burial place
  • burial date
  • cemetery
The Louisiana Biography and Obituary Index at the The New Orleans Public Library's Louisiana Division & City Archives numbers more than 650,000 cards.

Funeral programs
It is very common for a member of the family to keep funeral programs which are shared at the wake or funeral. Often the funeral home or church was responsible for printing and distributing them.

Ask relatives if they know if anyone in the family has been collecting funeral programs. Some funeral programs are very elaborate, but most give a brief biography and details which include the place an ancestor was laid to rest.

“For more than 30 years, Eula M. Ramsey Johnson saved programs from the numerous funerals she attended. The folded pieces of paper gave more than the names of the speakers and what songs were sung during the service. The programs provided valuable genealogical information.” See “Funeral programs help genealogists.”

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