A recent news article congratulated a local volunteer who’d photographed and documented thousands of graves in her community. Many hours and time were spent capturing this important information. We are fortunate to have such people who share their photos and hard work on grave sites. This week I thought we’d look at some of those sites as well as a site that talks about the best way to conserve gravestone.
If you’ve been researching your family history for any length of time, your family probably might question your needs to walk through strange cemeteries, searching for an elusive ancestor. But we’re among friends and know that those peaceful settings provide us with clue about those buried there. If we’re lucky our ancestor has a gravestone that confirms key dates and provides another clue. Those buried nearby or in the same plot may help us to build out our family tree information. And for those times that you cannot physically go to a burial site, these sites allow you to search for your people and possibly find a picture of the gravestone. Occasionally some kind soul has included an obituary.
Find A Grave According to their website,” Find a Grave's mission is to help people from all over the world work together to find, record and present final disposition information as a virtual cemetery experience.”
BillionGraves This site shares a similar purpose as Find A Grave: “Our goal is to preserve precious records found in cemeteries throughout the world. We use modern technology to capture images of headstones with their GPS locations so users worldwide can access those records anywhere.”
Interment.net “A free online library of cemetery records from thousands of cemeteries across the world, for historical and genealogy research.” Instead of “crowd-sourcing” with information from individuals across the country, this site notes that information about a particular cemetery is “provided by a single-source, be it a cemetery office, church office, archived document, a tombstone transcriber.”
To me, each site has its value and it is worth searching on all three sites. You may also find local sites for your region or outside of the United States. Here are a couple of examples.
Canadian Headstones Project
St. Nicholas Cemetery, rural Rosholt, South Dakota
If you do get the opportunity to visit an ancestor’s grave, check out some of the dos and don’ts included at the Cemetery Conservators for United Standards site. This is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization of cemetery conservators & preservationists from around the country. You can view several documents that talk about how to read difficult to read gravestones without damaging them. This site is quite detailed but full of useful information.
The New Hanover County North Carolina GenWeb site includes tips on how to read more difficult inscriptions by using lighting or aluminum foil. It’s worth clicking on the examples of stones where the aluminum foil was used.
American Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project provides ideas for reading headstones without doing harm.
And to better understand the symbols on gravestones, check out this video by Joy Neighbors “The Silent Language of the Stones, Reading Gravestones through Symbols and Carvings”.
There are several books available regarding graveyard symbols including the one by Joy Neighbors. Here’s another one that I’ve found interesting: Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith (April 5, 2004).
Here is a handy worksheet from FamilyTree Magazine in which you can capture details about your cemetery visits.
I find graveyards to be quiet, reflective places. When we find an ancestor’s grave, it is a tangible place where the past and present converge. Use the tips from the conservators to as you read and photograph these stones. Good luck with your search.
“Genealogy is not fatal, but it is a “grave” disease.”
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.