Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Genealogical resources: cemeteries

I love cemeteries. Yeah, I know...weird doesn't even begin to describe it. Even before I developed an interest in genealogy, I used to love going to the cemetery with the Girl Scouts on Memorial Day to place flags on the graves of veterans. I find them to be very peaceful. And I remember getting really excited when I realized I had family buried in one of the cemeteries we went to. I should've realized then what my future held for me.

Anyway, cemeteries are another source of genealogical information, especially if you're lucky enough to live in the vicinity of ones where family members are buried. Sometimes, like in the case of your parents or grandparents, you already know where to find them - my mother is in St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, my grandfather is in Holy Cross in Brooklyn, his parents are in Greenfield in Hempstead. Other times, a death certificate can provide this information - that's how I discovered family plots (and in one case, a mausoleum!) in Evergreen and Lutheran Cemeteries in Brooklyn.

But why visit the actual cemetery? From personal experience, being able to see and touch a family member's name on a headstone makes me feel closer to them and makes them feel more real. But headstones carry a lot of important information - other family members buried in the plot that you might not have known about or who you did know about but needed dates for. I visited my 4th great-grandfather's grave in Evergreen Cemetery and discovered he was a Civil War veteran when I saw it engraved on his headstone.

Sometimes there isn't a headstone, like in the Gorry family plot in Calvary Cemetery in Woodside. They were just too poor to afford one. But the cemetery office can still provide you with a list of names for most if not everyone buried there.

I have always found the cemetery offices to be extremely helpful. In most of the cases of my cemetery visits (Calvary, Holy Cross, Lutheran, and Evergreen are all in the same general area, so sometimes I would make a day of it and visit two or three in one trip), I had never been there before. Sometimes they need a name, sometimes they need a death date, but usually they can find your family member in their index and locate their burial site on a map for you.

I have had mixed results when trying to get the names of those buried in a plot with no headstone - for that, there is usually a fee. One cemetery (can't remember specifics but it was definitely one of the Catholic cemeteries...) wanted to charge me close to $100 for all the names. All he would tell me for free was how many people were in the plot and when they had died. But the people at Lutheran Cemetery were very helpful with that and the price was reasonable (I think maybe $20 for what turned out to be 4 or 5 names).

If you don't live near a cemetery where you have family, many cemeteries will give you this information over the phone - of course, policies and prices vary, but you can find a lot of that information, as well as phone numbers to call, online.

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