Mon, Jan. 20

Genealogy in Cemeteries

Cemeteries are peaceful and quiet and hold a wealth of genealogical information. A headstone usually will contain the name of the individual buried, and the birth and death date, sometimes the place of birth is included, and some give additional information such as listing names of parents, siblings, children or spouses. But there are other clues to look for and things to check out.

Take a look at the graves near your ancestor, as families are often buried near each other. Also look closely at any nearby children's graves, for a child may have been buried next to their parents or possibly their grandparents.

I found a wonderful headstone in Philadelphia recently that listed not only date and place of both the birth and death, but the names of the woman's parents, the name of her husband and the date they were married, as well as her children with each child's birth year. Yes, it was a huge headstone, and it didn't belong to my family, but one can wish. Keep in mind that even though the information is written in stone, there could be errors. I have an uncle who died on a Jan. 1, but his head stone says Jan. 11. When a stonecutter made an error, it was often too costly to redo the stone.

I always like to photograph headstones rather than just copy the information, but they can be tricky subjects for a picture. The stone may have deteriorated, and the sun is not always where it should be. A bit of preparation before you visit a cemetery can help

The silver sunscreen from your car may be used as a mirror to direct light onto the headstone to enhance the camera's capabilities.

A spray bottle filled with water can be used to spray the stone. You will be amazed at how the moisture will improve not only the readability, but also the photography. Anything stronger than water may erode the stone or permanently damage it.

Kneel down and take the picture from as straight an angle as you can. Standing can give the picture a "keystone effect" and make it unreadable.

If you can't take a picture, you might consider bringing a large piece of paper or some white fabric called "interfacing" which can be placed over the stone while you do a chalk or crayon rubbing. Remember the leaf rubbings you did in elementary school. This is the same principle. The fabric is nice because it folds easily away. It is always a good idea to check with the cemetery sexton to let him know what you are doing. Make sure that, whatever you do, the stone is not damaged in the process.

If you are going to a cemetery that is isolated and on a day when other people aren't around use caution. You should always take someone with you to any remote spot.

Information from many cemeteries is on line. Many states are making an all out effort to record their cemeteries before they crumble away and these are being posted on line. One site I particularly like is It is divided into two parts: one for famous people and one for everyone else. Mine are on the non-famous side, however, by typing in a surname and state you can find individual listings. If you find an ancestor you can leave a "virtual" flower or note. A nice feature of this site is that it allows you to view the contact information of whoever posted the grave information, making it easy to contact them. Sometimes a picture of the deceased will be posted also.

As you travel this summer if you are near areas where your family lived, take a side trip to the cemetery and remember to gather as much information as you can while you are there, and enjoy the epitaphs. Genealogy question can be sent to me at

Event Calendar
Event Calendar link
Submit Event