United States, Tombstone and Sexton Records
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- 1 Introduction
- 2 Steps
- 2.1 Step 1. Determine the town where your ancestor probably died.
- 2.2 Step 2. Search for a town index of cemetery records in the Family History Library Catalog.
- 2.3 Step 3. Search the index for your ancestor's name, and copy the information.
- 2.4 Step 4. Find the cemetery records.
- 2.5 Step 5. Search the record for information about your ancestor.
- 2.6 Step 6. Copy the information from the record.
- 2.7 Step 7. Analyze the information you found.
- 3 Tips
- 4 Where To Find It
Several types of cemetery records are available. Sextons or caretakers of cemeteries generally keep records of the names and dates of those buried and maps of the burial plots. Tombstones or gravestones may also exist, or the information on them may have been transcribed.
Cemetery records often include birth, marriage, and death information. They sometimes provide clues about military service, religion, or membership in an organization, such as a lodge. These records are especially helpful for identifying children who died young or women who were not recorded in family or government documents. Check the sexton's records, or visit the cemetery in person to see if other relatives are in the same or adjoining plots.
What You Are Looking For
The information you find varies from record to record. These records may include:
- Name of an ancestor.
- Dates and places of birth, marriage, and death.
- Names of parents.
- Names of spouse and children.
- Biographical information.
Step 1. Determine the town where your ancestor probably died.
Check the following to find the town where your ancestor lived:
- Family records (histories, pedigree charts, family group sheets, etc.).
- Published family histories.
You can find clues to burial places in funeral notices, church records, and death certificates.
For additional ways to find where your ancestor lived, see How to Locate Your Ancestor in the United States.
Step 2. Search for a town index of cemetery records in the Family History Library Catalog.
Since an index may be found with the record or separately, in the Family History Library Catalog, look for indexes under both:
- CEMETERIES - INDEXES.
- State records will be shown automatically.
- To find county records, click on the County tab, and choose a county.
- To find town or city records, click on the City tab, and choose a town or city.
Printing the catalog entry is usually helpful.
If you do not find an index, you may want to look for your ancestor's name in the record itself during the approximate dates when your ancestor lived in that area. Skip to step 4.
If you do not find cemetery records for your ancestor's town, see Tip 1.
Step 3. Search the index for your ancestor's name, and copy the information.
Find your ancestor's name in the index.
Copy everything about your ancestor from the index. This information is necessary for you to find him or her in the record.
If you cannot find your ancestor's name, check for variations of the spelling. For suggestions, see Name Variations.
Step 4. Find the cemetery records.
Find the catalog entries for the records. If the catalog entry you printed showed both the index and the records, you won't need to return to the catalog to find the film numbers for the appropriate records.
Obtain the book or film with the records.
For information on where to obtain copies of records, see Where to Find It.
Step 5. Search the record for information about your ancestor.
Using what you found in the index, find your ancestor in the record.
For a list of Internet sites with cemetery records or more information about these records, see Tip 2.
Step 6. Copy the information from the record.
Make a photocopy of the pages with the information about your ancestor. By copying the entire pages, you can study the record in depth and save it for future reference. You can analyze the handwriting and note other details you may have missed when you first looked at the record. You may find other relatives of your ancestor.
Be sure to document the source of the information by writing the title, author, book or film number, and page number on the copy, or photocopy the title page at the front of the book or film. Also write the name of the library, archive, etc., where you found the records.
Step 7. Analyze the information you found.
Study the document. Compare the information to what you already knew about your ancestor.
- What does it tell you about your ancestor and about the people who were with him or her?
- Does the record give clues about your ancestor which could guide you to other records?
- Watch for dates, locations, relationships, etc.
Tip 1. What can I do if I cannot find town cemetery records for the area where my ancestor lived?
If you cannot find town cemetery records, check:
- County or state records in the Family History Library Catalog. For records recommended for your ancestor's state, see the chart below.
- Other types of records, such as church, land, etc., listed on the Search Strategy.
- Another place where your ancestor lived.
- PERSI, The Periodical Source Index, or PERSI, is the largest subject index to genealogy and local history periodical articles in the world. For information about PERSI, see Tip 3.
To see some recommended cemetery records for your ancestor's state, go to United States Cemeteries.
Tip 2. What Internet sites may help me?
Check the following website, which has cemetery records or information about cemetery records for many areas of the United States:
Check the following general websites:
Tip 3. What is PERSI, and where can I find it?
The articlePeriodical Source Index (PERSI) gives details and links to use of this system.
PERSI may be found at:
- Family History Centers on microfiche.
- The Family History Library on compact disc, microfiche, and book format.
- Many public and college libraries.
- Ancestry.com on the Internet. There is a fee.
Tip 4. How can I use interlibrary loan?
Many public and college libraries can borrow books and microfilms from other libraries and archives. Only public and college libraries with microfilm readers can borrow microfilms.
- Go to your public or college library.
- Ask the librarian to check out a book or microfilm for you through interlibrary loan. You need to give the librarian the title of the book and the name of the author. For a microfilm, give the name and address of the archive that has the microfilm and their microfilm number. The librarian may be able to find this for you.
- The library staff will help you with their procedures. There may be a small fee.
Where To Find It
Family History Centers
Family History Centers can borrow microfilms from the Family History Library.
For the address and phone number of the center nearest you, see Family History Centers.
Family History Library
The following Wiki page will help in your search: Introduction to the Family History Library Catalog
Archives and Libraries
Records are available in many archives and libraries.
Some major archives and libraries in the United States are:
- United States Archives and Libraries
- American Library Directory
- State Archives (ALIC)
- National Archieves (ALIC)
Genealogical and Historical Societies
Some records may be available at genealogical and historical societies.
You may find the names and addresses of societies in the following sources, which are available at many public and college libraries:
- The Genealogist's Address Book, by Elizabeth Petty Bentley. Found on FamilySearch at FHL book 1992
- Directory of Genealogical and Historical Society Libraries, Archives and Collections in the US and Canada, by Dina C. Carson. Found on FamilySearch at FHL book 2002
- Directory of Genealogical Societies in the U.S.A. and Canada, by Mary Meyer. Found on FamilySearch at FHL book 1918-1998
- Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada, edited by Mary Bray Wheeler. Found on FamilySearch at FHL book 1990, 2001
- The Encyclopedia of Associations, published by Gale Research Co. FHL book 2010 49th ed
You can also check Internet sites such as this one for information about societies:
CyndisList, which has links to thousands of sites that contain genealogy information of all kinds.
Genealogical Search Services
Many genealogical search services will search probate records for a fee. These sources can help you find a genealogical search service:
CyndisList gives many companies and individuals who do research and lists publications that explain how to hire a professional genealogist.
Advertisements in major genealogical journals may help you find a researcher.
For more information, see Hiring a Professional Genealogist.