JOPLIN, Mo. —
Memorial Day weekend is the ideal time to not only decorate the graves of loved ones, but also learn the location of unmarked graves -- and learn about relatives who are buried nearby. That weekend is also a great time to contact living relatives.
Before traveling to a cemetery in search of information, take a few simple steps:
- First, gather information on the cemetery. Where is it located, and how does one get there? Have a map ready, or prepare a map that you can use on the trip. If the cemetery is located in a secluded site among hills or mountains, a smartphone may not work there.
- Are there other names for the cemetery? Should you have trouble finding the site and need to stop for directions, that information will be essential. An obituary might call it the Harding Cemetery, but locals call it the Old Smith Cemetery.
- Before the trip, learn the layout of the cemetery. If possible print a copy. Simply knowing that someone is buried there won't be helpful if the site has 600 graves. Contact relatives or other researchers to learn if they have visited the site. If so, ask for their advice on finding the plots where relatives are buried.
A free website at www.findagrave.com has thousands of photos of cemeteries and gravestones. Volunteers submit the photos and stone inscriptions, as well as information about the cemetery. If that site has a photo of your ancestor's gravestone or of the stones of relatives, print copies so that you will know what type of stones to look for.
If a cemetery is not listed at the Find a Grave site, another approach is to do an Internet search by entering the name of the cemetery and the town or county where it is located and the name of the state.
Also check the free website at usgenweb.org. Once that site opens, select the state where the cemetery is located and then select the county where it is located. The county sites usually provide information on cemeteries.
Next, learn the names of the cemetery caretakers. The best sources are local mortuaries whose funeral directors often work with caretakers when arranging funerals. If a funeral director is not familiar with an old cemetery, he or she usually knows a local historian who does know about it.
Other organizations to contact are local historical societies, genealogy societies and museums. Contact a caretaker and ask about the hours that they will be there during the holiday, then ask if there is a map of the burial site at the cemetery.
If the cemetery is on private land, ask the funeral director or local historian if they know the name of the owner. You will need to contact that person before the trip to get permission to enter the land. The owner will also need to give you directions to the cemetery. He or she may need to unlock a gate for your visit, too.
To contact other descendants or relatives of your ancestors, prepare a weather-proof plastic bag and attach it to flowers that you place on your ancestor's grave or the nearby grave of a relative. Inside the bag, provide information about your relationship with the deceased and how you can be contacted.
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