Most of the time, when I highlight resources for breaking through those brick walls, links go directly to online resources, often free. Remember, NOT everything is online and it certainly isn’t all free. Sometimes, it is necessary to dig much deeper and even pay “X” amount to obtain elusive records.
Cemetery records are a great example. Burial records can be easy to come by or virtually (both figuratively and via internet) impossible. I really consider myself to be a researcher who uses modern tools of the times, but there are extant burial records that are available that aren’t found on Findagrave or BillionGraves and never will be for one very simple, logical reason. The stone either can no longer be read or is not visible (as in “sank into the ground”)/completely gone.
The good news is that genealogists have been recording epitaphs at least since the 1800’s in the United States. The stone you hope to find that is illegible, broken, disintegrated with time, or gone may have been visited long ago and the epitaph recorded for posterity. On the down side, few of these records are in computerized databases online and access to many of them requires a subscription or a microfilm fee.
Where do you find such records? A very few can be found online, posted by a volunteer to sites such as USGenWeb or Rootsweb back in the early days of the internet, but more often, these records are housed at a local library, historical society or genealogical society.
A handful of states have organizations like Maine, the Maine Old Cemetery Association (MOCA), founded in 1968, with the goal of locating old cemeteries, encouraging their care and preservation and gathering and recording the information found in them.
If you have Downeast roots and haven’t been able to find gravestones where you think they should be, MOCA might have the answer for you – the stone is gone, but the information survives. MOCA does not do look ups, but it is working towards computerizing all their records. However, bound copies of the cemetery records are available at the Maine State Library and microfilmed records are available at thirteen repositories across the country, although, interestingly not at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
Other resources for Maine cemetery records include the Work Projects Administration (WPA) Cemetery Plans, which are actual old maps of cemetery layouts.
Another Maine resource is AccessGenealogy.com, which links to RootsWeb cemetery transcriptions.
Okay, Maine is one state out of fifty. What about the other 49? AccessGenealogy includes links to all the other states.
There are other states with an Old Cemetery Association:
New Hampshire Old Graveyard Association – established 1975
Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission – This appears to be a somewhat newer organization, as no history is given on its home page.
Vermont Old Cemetery Association – 1991 database
Before leaving New England resources, a mention needs to be made of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The society journal, The Register, has been published since 1847. Epitaphs for many small family cemeteries have been published by the society for more than 150 years. If you have deep New England roots, a society membership might be invaluable for locating graves and epitaphs. This is where I found information for ancestors who died in the early 1700’s and, when I had a chance to visit the cemeteries, kept searching through the overgrown weeds because I knew for sure that they were buried there.
Outside of New England:
I found the Wisconsin Local History Network with a list of Wisconsin Cemeteries Online. This database includes transcriptions of gravestone information.
I wasn’t able to find any other state level historical cemetery organizations, although undoubtedly some may exist as committees or special projects within other organizations, such as a state historical society. Take some time to check resources for your state of interest.
Finding a lack of state level resources means it is necessary to dig a bit deeper at the local level. In Connecticut, the Old Lyme Historical Society maintains a collection of indexed maps of old cemeteries and a database of The Hale Collection, a list of headstone inscriptions for all cemeteries that existed in Connecticut in 1934.
If you know the cemetery where a family member would likely have been buried, look for a preservation association affiliated with that one cemetery, such as the Wheaton Cemetery Association in Wheaton, Illinois.
Another possibility which I have come across regarding gravestones is that a family member was, indeed, buried where I expected them to be, but the family never erected a headstone. In this case, help at the local cemetery might be the only way to go if a death date is lacking.
The Wheaton Cemetery Association website gives this information:
Dates of birth, death and interment are generally available. Headstone inscriptions and data about other individuals buried in the same plot can lead to revelations about deceased children and other spouses.
FamilySearch.org is another great resource if you check their Wiki. I tried looking for resources for San Augustine County, Texas, an original county formed when Texas first won its independence from Mexico in 1836.
Besides links to the usual suspects like FindaGrave and BillionGraves, there are links to online grave transcriptions to USGenWeb, Cemeteries of Texas and Names in Stone, all less commonly resources for cemetery burial information. There are also two links to published grave transcriptions at the Family History Library and on WorldCat and a third category to county cemetery directories.
Online Cemetery Records and Burial Indexes also offers links to some cemetery records covering various areas of the U.S.
There are way too many towns, counties and states to create a comprehensive list of links to these lesser known organizations. Also, please don’t forget the vertical files or other local history records found in town libraries!
The point I want to make here is that not everything is readily available and, if you don’t dig deeper, you may not find that tiny piece of data you wish could add to the family history even though it exists and is sitting there waiting for you to discover it.
Instead, I hope I have shared useful search tips for locating local records which may predate many of those found online at the major websites.