Cemeteries provide a valuable, tangible link with the past, and often offer an opportunity to gather data that in many cases can be found nowhere else.
If you plan a visit to an ancestral cemetery on your own, or with a single research companion, there’s no need to make special arrangements. However, if you plan to make it part of a family reunion itinerary, it’s a good idea to schedule excursions to active cemeteries for the early morning hours, from 8:00 to 11:00am, to avoid any services that may be held. Check the day before your trip with the cemetery office or caretaker just to be certain, and allow at least one and a half to two hours for your cemetery visit. For older, inactive cemeteries, secure permission from the cemetery authority if possible.
Upon arrival at the cemetery, take a few moments to orient your group, especially young children and teens, reminding all to show proper respect for the dead and practice appropriate cemetery etiquette. Younger children should be supervised while on cemetery grounds.
Cemeteries offer plenty of activity for family members of all ages. Allow time for generations to wander the gravestones together: For older relations, gravestone inscriptions can supply sparks of inspiration, kindling long-forgotten memories. Out-of-town visitors may wish to research the family in old church records, so be sure to schedule this with cemetery authorities in advance. You may even want to recruit your clan to clean up the ancestral plots. And everyone, young and old, will enjoy making gravestone rubbings to take home as a keepsake of their trip. (See “How to Make a Gravestone Rubbing” below.)
If you aren’t sure where your ancestors are buried, a cemetery directory, such as Cemeteries of the U.S.: A Guide to Contact Information for U.S. Cemeteries and Their Records can assist you in determining which cemeteries are in the area of your ancestors’ last residence. Once the burial site has been located, the cemetery, if still in existence, can be contacted to schedule a visit and request copies of burial records. And when gathering data at the cemetery, be sure to record accurate source information for future researchers.
How to Make a Gravestone Rubbing*
You will need:
• Tracing Paper or Freezer Paper (works well even if stones are damp or wet), or Acid-free Vellum(for archival-quality rubbings)
• Thick dark-colored crayons with the labels removed
• Soft bristle brush
• Small spray bottle of water
• Hand towel
• Cardboard tube – for storing paper and finished rubbings
Select a solid gravestone and gently clean dirt and debris from the face using a soft bristle brush, and water if necessary. Have your partner hold the paper over the gravestone. (If using freezer paper, put the shiny side down.) With the flat side of the crayon, rub the entire area using gentle, even strokes. Before removing the paper, step back and check to see if you have completely rubbed all areas. When finished, it is a good idea to note somewhere on the rubbing where it was taken. Roll your paper up carefully so you don’t crease it or smudge the tracing.
* Always gain permission to do rubbings before you begin. Do not do rubbings on thin or unstable stones. Carelessness can cause damage to gravestones, and for this reason, some cemeteries do not permit gravestone rubbing.
Written by Renee Huskey, of Photoloom LLC, creators of Family Photoloom. Family Photoloom is a ground-breaking online family photo-history service that provides the tools you need to organize your photos, stories and other files around your genealogy, and create truly seamless family history. Please visit www.photoloom.com to learn more.