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251 W. Juniper Ave. | Gilbert, AZ 85233
Phone: 480-892-9411 | Fax: 480-545-5207

Ancestors in the Cemetery

graveyard with church in the background
Church registers may be located in the original church, in the Diocese or in regional and national archives. Begin your search at the local level and work your way up. Very often, if the church or parish does not have the records, they can tell you who will.

Cemeteries can be great places to trace back to your ancestors and find out more about your family's history. By walking around the cemetery you can find gravestones that can lead you to ancestors you didn't know about. You can come across little grave markers of young children and infants who died, but have no other existing records.

Having a few documents and some old family jewellery does not compare to standing in the one place on earth which contains the mortal remains of your ancestors. Their tombstones are the only physical evidence of the life they lived. You can see the important pieces of their life carved into stone. To begin researching your ancestors, the first thing you need to do is find out where they are buried. Often times death records or obituaries will have this information. Published cemetery surveys may also list your ancestors.

Funeral homes and morticians can be very helpful with locating cemetery records. Funeral directors may have funeral records that include the burial location and they know most of the locations of cemeteries in the area. If a funeral home is no longer in business, you can try checking with other area funeral homes as they may know where the old records are located.

If you know your ancestor's religious affiliation you can try contacting the church in the area where your ancestor lived. Churches often maintain attached cemeteries and keep records for their members who are buried elsewhere. A local genealogical or family history society is a good place to go for information on local cemeteries. These groups work at preserving cemetery information, compiling cemetery indexes and have knowledge of little known burial locations, especially family cemeteries. Today the internet has become a popular tool in searching for cemetery records. Special geographic place name search engines can also help to locate a cemetery, though the information available on the Internet varies by country.

When you have finally narrowed down the area, but still don't know which cemetery contains your ancestor you can turn to a good old fashioned map. Land, tax or census records can help you pinpoint your ancestor's land on a map. Sometimes they can be found buried in a cemetery not too far from where they lived. Topographic maps or locality maps may show cemeteries, roads, houses and farms. Even little details such as elevation features can be useful as cemeteries were often erected on high ground.

When you get to the cemetery, whether its public or private you should try to find the sexton records. A sexton is someone who takes care of the cemetery. These records include the burial registers, maps and plot records.

Now that you're in the cemetery, make sure you write down names and dates exactly as they appear on the gravestones to have accurate records. If there are any symbols you are unfamiliar with, sketch them onto a piece of paper so you can look them up later and find out what they mean. These symbols or emblems can be clues to organizations your ancestor might have belonged too.

Keep your eyes open for the gravestones surrounding the ancestors you were looking for, they might hold the remains of other family members you didn't know about. Also don't forget to look on the backside of the stone, there can be information hidden there too. If you aren't big on a pen and paper, try recording information using a recorder and video camera. As you walk around the cemetery you can read off names and dates, also make note when you start a new row. Visiting cemeteries is one of the best ways to find out a little bit about where you came from.

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