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* Finding a death date in cemeteries or cemetery records

Photograph of a HeadstoneCemeteries and cemetery records are excellent places to look for death dates. While actually visiting the grave site is the best thing to do, you may also find a death date by searching the gravestone inscriptions that some organizations have transcribed. These transcriptions are described below. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Shinn, employee.)

There are several types of cemeteries in America. First, there are church-owned cemeteries, which include churchyards located right around the church, and cemeteries run by the church, but not adjacent to the church. There are also national, state, and local cemeteries which are owned by the government and maintained by tax dollars. Privately-owned, non-church cemeteries are also abundant. This type of cemetery is usually operated for profit. Finally, you can find small family burial plots, which are found on private property. If you have the name of a cemetery, but do not know the location, look in telephone books for the area, or ask at the local courthouse, library, genealogical society, or even local churches. Also look at U.S. Government Geological Survey maps of the area, available in larger libraries and often in sporting goods stores. These maps show all of the roads, houses, and even the small graveyards. If you do not have the name of a cemetery, first ask other family members if they know where any old family plots are. Where one family member is buried, it is likely that there are a few others. Also try obituaries, wills, and on death certificates -- they often list burial information or the name of a funeral home that you can contact. If you know to which church the individual belonged, you may want to ask the church if there was a particular cemetery where many church members of the era were buried. You can also check your local public and genealogy libraries for the American Blue Book of Funeral Directors, published in New York by the National Funeral Directors Association. This book lists cemeteries by location, and will at least give you a target list of cemeteries to search.

Once you have a target list of cemeteries, try calling before you visit. This could save you a fruitless trip because staff members may be able to search their records for you and tell you whether or not your ancestor is buried there. If there doesn't seem to be an office at the cemetery, try calling churches and funeral directors in the area. They may know where any cemetery records are located, if they exist. You may want to look at cemetery records even if you know that your ancestor is buried in the cemetery. These records usually include at least names and death dates, but you may also find information such as birth dates and spouse's and parents' names.

If your ancestor is buried in the cemetery and you plan to visit the grave site, you should also find out when the cemetery office is open so that you can stop in and find out exactly where the plot is. This will save you the trouble of having to search the entire cemetery for your ancestor. If you do have to walk up and down among the gravestones, bring the whole family -- several pairs of legs and eyes are better than one.

While actually visiting the grave site is the best thing to do, you may also find your ancestor's gravestone inscription among the transcriptions owned by some organizations. Local libraries, genealogy libraries, and genealogy societies in the area where your ancestor is buried may have or know about transcriptions from local cemeteries. In addition, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Works Project Administration, the Idaho Genealogical Society, and the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers have all transcribed selected gravestone inscriptions from throughout the United States. Contact the Library of the Daughters of the American Revolution or your local Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more information about their collections of gravestone transcriptions. The Library of Congress and other large libraries throughout the United States also have transcript collections. When you look at gravestone transcriptions, remember that there is always the possibility of errors.

When looking for cemetery records, many people use computerized cemetery records indexes to help them find the record that they need. Some libraries have computerized cemetery records indexes and you can also purchase selected cemetery records on CD-ROM from, Inc.

The FamilyFinder Index, a feature of Family Tree Maker software and also available for searching at, is an index of over 220 million names from census records, marriage records, Social Security death records, actual family trees, and more. This feature can help you by telling you if your ancestor's name is actually listed on one of the cemetery CDs sells. Using the FamilyFinder Index couldn't be easier -- all you need to do is enter the names of your ancestors right into your own computer. If the FamilyFinder Index tells you that your ancestors are listed, then it's simple to locate your ancestor's record. For more information about FamilyFinder, or for information about purchasing CD-ROM indexes, see the topic All about FamilyFinder.

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