United States, Tombstone and Sexton Records

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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.
  • Censuses.

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:


For descriptions of records available through Family History Centers or the Family History Library, click on Family History Library Catalog in the window to the left.

  • 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, which is an index of magazines. Information which is too short for a book may be found in a magazine article. For information about PERSI, see Tip 3.

To see some recommended cemetery records for your ancestor's state, click on the state name below and scroll to the "Cemeteries" section of the research outline:

Ala. Alaska Ariz Ark Calif Colo Connl Del D C Fla GA Hawaii Idaho
Ill Ind Iowa Kans KY LA Maine MD Mass Mich Minn Miss MO
Mont  Nebr Nev NH NJ N Mex NY NC N Dak Ohio Okla Oreg PA
RI SC S Dak Tenn Tex Utah VT VA Wash W VA Wis Wyo