Friday, May 24, 2013

Searching Cemetery Records

With Memorial Day coming up and many people making their annual trek to the Cemetery to honor  loved ones, members of the military, ancestors or friends; I thought it might be appropriate to have a short discussion about Cemetery Research.  Unfortunately, most of us can't just hop into a car and drive to our cemetery of  interest, so we need a more convenient alternative.  A couple web sites come to mind--Find a Grave and Billion Graves.  Today we are going to focus on the former,, because I have used the site more often, have been very impressed with the results of my searches, and they claim to have over 99M records.

Because the program is so intuitive, I am not going to spend a lot of time going through the details of a search; rather I am going to point out a couple ways to use the site in your genealogy research.  You can search in many ways: the total data base, by state. county or by cemetery.  One of the things I like to do is pick a cemetery of interest--one which you know is the burial site of many of your relatives.  Some of the smaller towns only have a single cemetery; but you will be surprised many times by the relative large number of cemeteries you might find for a town under 10,000 people.  If you aren't sure of the cemetery's name, the search feature allows you to walk your way, using "Search for a Cemetery" from country, to state, to county, to and then it will list all of the available cemeteries.   

Using this technique I located "Las Animas Cemetery" as one of thirteen cemeteries in Bent County.  The home page of the cemetery indicates their are 4897 interments and 97% of the headstones have been photographed.  

I could search by a specific name; but I want to just use the surname, so as to determine how many people with my maternal grandparents surname, Dean, are buried there.  The results show that there are 32 people

with the surname Dean buried there.  However, there are often duplicates, so you need to keep that in mind. The program doesn't seem to have a feature for identifying duplicates.  Interestingly, as I look closer there aren't really 32 Deans.  The list is divided in two parts which provide the results of the Find A Grave Search and then the Genealogy Bank search.  As I filtered through the listing, it appeared that there were about 19 different Deans.  It is important to note that Genealogy Bank listed about five people that weren't in the Find A Grave results.  This isn't surprising since they are two separate data bases, neither of which is complete.

Using this technique I looked at about three separate cemeteries where my ancestors were buried.  By checking carefully against my Family Tree Maker data base, I identified one person that I could add to FTM and a few birth and death dates that weren't included.  Therefore, cross checking between your genealogy software program and the Find A Grave surname search by cemetery; you are very likely to find information you didn't previously have.  Doing state searches by surname is also a good way to find relatives or additional facts that you don't have.  I did a state wide search for Colorado for Ritchhart and was amazed that La Junta, my father's home town adjacent to Las Animas, is the only town in the state that lists ANY Ritchharts.   On the negative side, my paternal grandparents and four or five other Ritchharts are buried in the La Junta Cemetery; but don't show up in the searches.  Because Find A Grave is a volunteer effort, I don't believe data is available for the percentage of all graves in each cemetery that are listed in their data base.  At some time that would be a nice feature.  

However, I have created some more work for myself--adding the Ritchharts from my FTM program to the Find A Grave listing for La Junta's Fairview Cemetery!  

While you are out at the cemetery this weekend, take along your camera and later you can enter the photos of the headstones in Find A Grave.  You will help out others and check-off your good deed for the day!