Last month, the genealogy group I lead sponsored a program on Cemetery Research, with Dr. D. L. Henderson.  The program was a success with quite a few people in attendance. As always, Dr. Henderson did an excellent job in sharing with the group how to conduct cemetery research, including how to find them and what to do when you get there.  Below are notes from the presentation.

Cemetery Research for Genealogists Program
May 19, 2012
Cemetery Research

  • Gravestones: Documentation & Genealogy
  • Floral Tributes and Memory Stones (Stones left by the living.  You could leave your contact information in a Ziploc bag with the hopes that someone will come to visit the gravestone and have information)
  • Physical Evidence of Ancestors

Records of Death and Burial


Locating the Cemetery

  • Check Death Records
  • Ask Your Relatives
  • Contact Cemeteries
  • Contact Funeral Homes – Don’t normally keep records; if they don’t have the information, don’t pester them.
  • Contact Monument Makers – Especially in small towns.
  • Contact Churches – especially the ones with the churchyards. You may be able to talk to someone at the church who could have some information.
  • Ask Local Residents

Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)

GNIS has information about locations and various things, including information on historical institutions that may not be there anymore including communities, churches, cemeteries, etc. Can search by location.  You can find cemeteries in a certain county by selecting cemetery as the feature class and selecting your state and county. Will list longitude and Latitude to plug into your GPS.

Types of Cemeteries

  • Church Burial Grounds
  • Family Burial Grounds – Information may only be found from someone who is familiar with the cemetery or the families.
  • Public Cemeteries – May have more records. If you are trying to protect a cemetery, check the local cemetery code.
  • Community or Neighborhood Cemeteries – normally no records for those except for the ones that you create.
  • Military Cemeteries – tend to have very good records. Includes National Cemeteries

Visiting the Cemetery

  • Plan Your Visit in Spring or Fall
  • Be careful
  • Don’t lean on the stones, could break them.
  • Beware of critters, including snakes
  • Wear Long Pants and Sturdy Shoes
  • Take Along a Companion When Visiting Rural or Isolated Cemeteries
  • Supplies
    • Pens and Notebook or Cemetery Forms
    • Gloves and Bug Spray
    • Hoe and Shears for Clearing Weeds – clear enough to see the cemeteries. Don’t move big rocks (they serve are markers).
    • Soft Bristle Brush (something that you would use on your brand new car) and Spray Bottle of Water for Cleaning Headstones
    • Digital Cameras or Video or Audio Recorders

At the Cemetery

If there is a cemetery office:

  • Call first for hours and information on locating graves.
  • You may be able to find your ancestor’s grave location in cemetery records.
  • Ask to look at the play book, a layout of the burial grounds.
  • View the original documents, if possible. (Chestnut Hill, ownership changed hands, there was a fire, and some of the records were lost.  Have them mostly from the 1960s.)

Cemetery Survey

  • Description of Cemetery
    • Location, Type, Special Sections, Status and Condition, Size – (many cemeteries were moved in the creation of I-20)
    • General Description of Markers
      • Types, Composition, Artwork
      • Historical Notes
      • Other Comments – anything you thought was interesting.

Think about creating a journal to record your feelings about what you find.

Stories in Stone

  • Record names, dates, and inscriptions exactly as they appear.
  • Photograph or sketch stones and symbols they contain – Do this even when you take a picture because of technology difficulties or the accidental deletion of the photos.
  • Record the layout of stones in a family plot – record information of the plots surrounding your family.
  • Look at the back to stones for information.

General Notes

  • The New South Associates, a group of archaeologists have worked with the Avondale Cemetery in Bibb County to gather information about it because it was being moved to make room for a room. This information is on a website –
  • Footnote is now Fold3 and they specialize in military records.