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Grave Discoveries: Visiting Cemeteries to Help you Find your Ancestors

Grave Discoveries: Visiting Cemeteries to Help you Find your Ancestors

If you've come to a seemingly dead end in your genealogy research, some places that you might consider visiting are cemeteries. Start with ancestors who lived nearby and who are likely to be buried close to your home-if your local cemetery is fairly small, you can simply spend an afternoon walking though it to search for familiar names. However, at larger cemeteries, you'll need some help sifting through the hundreds, sometimes thousands of tombstones.

If the cemetery is associated with a church, contact the church secretary or religious leader and ask about their graveyard policies. Some keep a record of everyone buried and plot numbers where you can find these individuals, and they should be happy to share their records with you. On top of gaining information such as birth and death dates about the ancestor you are researching, you may also stumble upon other relatives who are buried in a family plot or names of children, spouses, parents, etc. who held the funeral. Occasionally, churches will even save obituaries or funeral information about their members, and this information can be especially valuable on your hunt for ancestors.

Cemeteries not associated with churches often are run by a committee or the government. Find the name of the contact person and they will be able to help you locate specific plots. Recently, larger cemeteries have begun putting their records onto computers, making it even easier to search surnames and other information. Within a few minutes, they can provide you with a map of the plots and a list of people with a specific surname. Save this list-even if you don't recognize the names now, you may be able to find a connection in the future.

There are many ways to record information from tombstones. First, you can bring your camera and take a picture of each stone. Remember to be respectful of other visitors-wait until the area is clear before taking a picture, especially if your camera uses a flash. Do not stand straight in front of the stone if this is the case, because the flash will often times shine back and you won't be able to read the information on the photograph.

Some old stones, however, cannot be adequately photographed. In this case, bring supplies to do a rubbing. Use a brush to remove debris such as dirt and bird droppings from the stone. Next, tape a large piece of paper to the stone, making sure to cover all areas of writing. Use the side of a crayon-a large black one works best-to gently rub over the stone. Your words should appear on the paper, giving you a good record of whatever is written on the stone.

When visiting cemeteries, always use caution, especially when you touch very old stones, so that you do not cause any damage. Also remember that other visitors are there to mourn and remember loved ones, so be polite and quiet while you are searching through the stones for hints to your genealogy.

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