Genealogy at a Glance: American Cemetery Research
By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Cemeteries are not just hallowed and mysterious places, they are also repositories of genealogical knowledge, their tombstones providing crucial information ranging from the name of the deceased and his birth and death dates to a bonanza of biographical detail that often includes the names of parents, children, and spouse. But tombstones are more like artifacts than documents, and they require a different approach and give rise to different expectations. In its now familiar format, this new "Genealogy at a Glance" publication addresses these grave issues, expertly covering the unique aspects of cemetery research in four specially laminated pages.
First--and here’s the most unusual aspect of this genealogical research assignment--you need to locate your ancestor’s final resting place. The date of death and place of death are important clues, but there’s much more to it than that, as you’ll find out. Once you are familiar with the various methods of tracking down a likely cemetery, you will be guided through the different types of cemeteries, and how their records and maps of plots can make a difference in your research. The rest of this guide describes how to take a field trip to the cemetery to find the tombstone; transcribe the inscription; take a photograph; note the stone’s location, composition, and artwork; and, finally, note the names on the tombstones located near your ancestor for clues to relationships.
But practical considerations trump everything, and you are advised to wear protective clothing and boots, told how to take better photographs with a mirror, and taught how to make tombstone rubbings with a jumbo crayon. After all this fun you might want to consult some of the reference books mentioned here, or you might want to visit the Databases of the Dead, Ms. Carmack’s list of online cemetery transcription projects. Finally, you might be lucky enough to find the living among the dead. Check out American Cemetery Research and find out how.