While finding a loved one’s grave is easier today because of improved technology and information sharing, it can still involve a lot of guesswork and detective sleuthing. Many people consider genealogy research a fun and interesting pastime because it can reveal fascinating details about their ancestors, especially if they can locate their gravesites.
Visiting the graves of your ancestors can be a poignant and powerful experience. For many, it helps them gain perspective on their place in their family lineage and pay homage to family members they never had the chance to know because they lived generations before them.
If you haven’t yet embarked on a search for your ancestors’ graves, this is your opportunity to find out how to fill in the puzzle pieces. If you’re ready, follow the information below to help locate your loved one’s grave in a cemetery.
Before you set out to find your ancestor's grave, collect as much information on them as possible. At a minimum, try to locate vital records information such as:
If you're unsure of this information and don’t know where to start, try searching census records, hospital death records, and newspapers around the date of death that may have published their obituary.
If you are having trouble finding information on your ancestor, many online resources can help piece together a picture of their history and hopefully lead you to find their gravesite. You can research essential records such as birth and death certificates, divorce decrees, marriage licenses and wills online.
However, local organizations typically create these databases, so the amount and type of information can vary. These documents are not part of federal records, so they aren't held by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
The National Center for Health Statistics page on the CDC’s website can help locate birth, marriage, divorce and death records that reside with state and territorial agencies. The information that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has collected from census records might prove helpful in uncovering the jurisdiction you need to search to locate your ancestor's vital records.
A wealth of niche databases also exist to locate information, and any additional knowledge about your relative's life could pay off. The following are a few of some more focused databases to search. You can find more on the NARA website:
Once you have enough information on the deceased to search for the grave location, use the following resources to do more detective work. These online sites have been in existence for many years:
Each site works relatively the same. Once you navigate to your chosen site, enter the requested data and perform a search. The basic pieces of information you will need are as follows:
The more information you can supply, the better, such as an alias or maiden name, if your initial search doesn't turn up any records. You may also have better luck if you know the exact year of birth or death instead of a range.
You might have thought your search was done once you found the location of your ancestor’s grave. However, finding the actual grave in the cemetery is a different matter. Thanks to the Internet, you can do quite a bit of research online for individual cemeteries.
You might have uncovered information about your ancestor’s death that lists the cemetery in which they are interred. However, if you checked with the cemetery and couldn’t locate the grave, don’t give up.
While possible, finding a relative's unmarked grave is a bit more challenging. If you’re still trying to find the cemetery they’re at, gather as much data as possible, focusing on where and when your relative died. Then contact the county where the death occurred and speak to funeral homes in the area. You can also try visiting local cemeteries and asking to check their cemetery maps.
Search the following resources to see if a specific cemetery was mentioned:
If the cemetery is very old and no longer has anyone in charge of managing it, check with local historical societies or archives to see if they have burial records for the cemetery.
Many cemeteries and communities didn’t keep detailed records in decades past, but you never know what could turn up until you ask—so don’t give up. The knowledge you gain could be well worth the effort.
At Axiom, we have a variety of cemetery tools that make it easier for cemetery management personnel to help families locate the graves of their loved ones, including an easy-to-use, mobile-friendly tool with self-service abilities, such as viewing deceased and service information, accessing walk-to-grave directions, seeing a visual map overview of the cemetery, and accessing a gallery of images.
Additionally, we offer kiosk software that can be placed at various locations throughout your cemetery that can help visitors locate a deceased person using a search and list function and provide walk-to-grave directions.