Researching the Cemetery


Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

Cemeteries can offer a great deal of information in your efforts to complete your family research. If you do not know where your family members are buried, start by asking older family members. They may be able to tell you or they may have obituaries that list the cemetery where your ancestor is buried. Now that you have the obituary in your hand, you might want to contact the Funeral Home that handled the burial services. It is always a good idea to call ahead before dropping in as this allows them to work you into their schedule.
Check with the cemetery office if there is one when you arrive. Many times, they can be very helpful in providing you with the location of a specific grave. Take the time to slowly walk the area near your family member’s graves. Even if you have been there many times before, take a second look at all those buried nearby. Are there other stones that have family surnames on them? Did you find a small stone with a child’s name? It might be a child who died in infancy and never showed up in census records and was seldom mentioned by older family members.
If your family member died in another town or state, there are a couple of strategies to try. Using the internet, you can locate cemeteries, funeral homes and historical societies that may be able to assist you in locating the information that you are looking for. In addition, knowing the person’s religious affiliation may open doors. Some churches have cemeteries next door to the church and may have the complete records of that cemetery including burial sites that are not marked. If the church is no longer active, contact the regional office for that specific denomination as the records may have been transferred to them upon the churche’s closure.
The Hall House has a complete listing of the cemeteries in Chautauqua County and also the names of those folks buried there. In addition, there are records from some of the local funeral homes and a fairly large collection of obituaries. Find A Grave is an on-line data base with approximately 116 million records. Just type in Find A Grave and when it opens, click on the section that is titled Search 116 million grave records. It will open to a search template. Type in all that you know and see what shows up. If you join this site you can add records, photos, and make corrections to records that are not accurate
There are specific strategies that you will want to employ in order to maximize your time and effort especially if you have traveled any distance to do this research. Next month, I will talk about supplies to take, best time of day to visit, taking photographs, reading the stones, and general rules of courtesy to be observed.
To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to and visit Janet’s own web page.