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A Genealogist In The Archives: Finding Cemetery Records in an Archive

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Finding Cemetery Records in an Archive

One of the most requested record collections that I am asked about as a county archivist is cemetery records. Even in my small county we have over 200 individual cemeteries.

Finding cemetery records in an archive will depend on what has been saved by the record keepers, if those records were donated to the archives and if these records even existed in the first place. Unfortunately, with many areas, these records were not kept consistently and they were many times not preserved. But that is no reason not to put "Cemetery Records" on your genealogy to-do list and try to find them.

Sparkman Burial Association Records, ca. 1933, Houston County, TN. Archives

Many local historical or genealogical societies publish cemetery books. These publications are usually compiled by volunteers who have literally walked the cemeteries in their community and recorded the information contained on the surviving headstones. It is not unusual to not find your ancestor listed in the cemetery that other records state they were buried in because there was no stone or the information on the stone was not readable. The volunteers who compiled the information can only record what they see and if there is no stone or the information on the stone has worn away, they can not record anything.

If you are fortunate, you might find that cemetery records have been donated to the archives. These records could include plot maps, lists of those that are interred and even family members that have contributed to the upkeep of the cemetery itself. These records may come to the archives by way of the cemetery organization that no longer have room for the records or there is no one to keep the records, so they are donated to the local archive, historical society or genealogical society. These records can be a gold mine of information for the genealogist who have ancestors buried in that particular cemetery.

Map to the Oak Hill Cemetery, Houston County, TN. Archives 

Another type of collection that could hold information about local cemeteries are funeral home records. Historically, it is the job of the local funeral home or undertaker to arrange for and conduct the burial of the deceased. Among their records they could have references to cemeteries in the area. I have seen some funeral homes that keep plot maps of each cemetery so that they can determine if the cemetery is at capacity or so they can determine where to bury the deceased. I have also seen funeral homes with county or city maps that indicate where all the cemeteries are located that allow current burials. Some funeral homes may have donated their records to the local archive, historical society or genealogical society but they could also still be located at the funeral home office. Also keep in mind that funeral homes merge with other funeral homes and will keep the previous funeral home records as well.

Houston County Historical Society Cemetery Book

When visiting an archive to look for cemetery records, be sure to check the Vertical File Collections, Manuscript Collections and Special Collections of any cemetery records or published cemetery books. Also, ask the archivist, librarian or clerk about what cemetery records they may have in their collections.



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