Cemetery records are a rich source of genealogical information, especially when a death certificate cannot be found or expensive. They may reveal valuable extra information such as the place of death, last home address, and even more. However, cemetery records were never designed with the idea that they would be someday be valuble for genealogical research. In a cemetery office, ledger books and burial cards are two of the most common recordkeeping systems. Often the entries in a ledger book may be in chronological order making a search a bit difficult when you do not know a death date. Burial cards, on the other hand, are stored in one or more file drawers and are filed alphabetically, making a name search much easier without much further information.
Burial cards for Chicago area Catholic cemeteries are available online. The Chicago Archdiocese of the Catholic Church manages 45 cemeteries in Chicago, Cook County, and Lake County, from Ascension Cemetery in Libertyville serving Northern Cook and Lake to Assumption Cemetery in Glenwood to the south.,
There are FOUR different ways to access burial information in the Chicago Archdiocese for your Uncle Louie. If you are seeking a person buried in a Chicago area Catholic cemetery.
The first way, in the larger cemeteries, is contacting one of 15 staffed Catholic cemetery offices. A polite phone call or visit may yield burial information,. Do know that genealogy requests usually take a back seat to day to day cemetery operation and you must respect that fact. Also, the staff can be of varying levels of helpfulness. You must usually have the complete name of the person you are looking for and sometimes even the date of death. Depending, you may be politely rebuffed or you may receive awesome attention. Your mileage may vary. The records for some small cemeteries without a cemetery office are maintained at a larger (or supervising) cemetery.
Second, in addition to cemetery offices, some of the larger Catholic cemeteries have electronic kiosks within the cemetery at which you can conduct a search which gives the name, date of burial, and grave location. This index is updated with new burials to keep it current. Unfortunately, that index is not accessible online. Searching at a kiosk on a cold snowy winter day may not be a pleasant experience.
Third, there is an Archdiocese Interment Search page online at www.catholiccemeterieschicago.org/Resources/Interment_Search Your results may take some time.
But wait there’s more!
The fourth and possibly the best way is a fantastic resource available online, a searchable index that is far better than the Archdiocese search page or a kiosk. and can provide you with an actual image of the burial card. The Church of Latter Day Saints at has microfilmed, digitized, and indexed burial cards in a database entitled “Archdiocese of Chicago Cemetery Records 1864-1989” This searchable database containing over 1.6 million images, prepared from microfilmed records made in 1989, is available free at WWW.familysearch.org. In that regard, the index does not include records beyond 1989. You need to register in order to use the site, but it is simple and without any cost or obligation.
You can go directly to their search page directly at index of burials in the Archdiocese of Chicago Cemeteries or the internet page address of https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1503083. Either link should get you to the very simple but powerful search page. To use the website you will need to have an account with FamilySearch but registration for the account is free and can be done prior to searching their collections at the home page of the website. Be sure to remember the password that you created.
Family Search describes it thusly:
“Index and images of miscellaneous records of cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Chicago [Illinois]. The majority of the collection is comprised of burial index cards. A small percentage of the collection includes burial registers, daily burial logs and registers of cemetery lot owners. Cemeteries within the Archdiocese of Chicago are located in both Cook and Lake counties, Illinois.”
The really good news is that you can search using as little or as much information as you might have. Even better is that you can search for just a surname without a first name, something that a cemetery office will often frown about. This searchable index, when using just a surname, will often uncover family members that you may not be aware of, especially children, babies, and even stillborns. I suggest you do a “wide” search first, using just the first and last name. If you are looking for a Jones, Smith, or Brown, you will need to provide a bit more information to narrow your search. Do try alternative spellings.
If you find someone of interest in the index, you can click on the name and be taken to the actual image of that record. Remember that ou will need first to be logged-in at familysearch.org to see the image. The scanned images are of the actual index cards that reside in the cemetery offices. The name of the cemetery will appear at the bottom of your search result.
You might find records of ancestors known to have been buried before about 1912 suggesting the index card system wasn’t used in the earliest days of cemetery records. Besides the name, the date of death, date of burial, grave location, you might uncover the address at time of death or other information. One important bit of information is when the person has been removed to another location within the cemetery or a different cemetery. Sometimes this transfer occurs many years later.
So here are a few examples of burial cards and the various information that you might find:
These two cards uncommonly show cause or place of death
These burial cards can reveal babies and stillborns who may not be known or be on a family chart
Other burial cards may reveal a name variation. Remember, when searching for a married woman, that she will most likely be buried under her married name, not her birth name.
Some burial cards reveal the name of a nun along with her birth name
Here is a burial card showing a transfer to another cemetery, 18 years after his death. Also notice the notation “2nd class.” Back in the day, sometimes graves were sold on a class basis.
This is a most interesting card in that this person was originally donated to science to the Illinois Demonstration Associalion (now renamed to the The Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois) and then buried in a cemetery. This is very unusual as the final resting place from a body donated to science is almost never known.
So endeth my best tips on Chicago burial cards in Catholic cemeteries. Sadly, no such index exist for large commercial cemeteries like Rosehill. You can try a hit or miss search within Findagrave.com or Billiongraves.com, both of which have more and more listings every day. If you run into a brick wall, have comment, or have a question, feel free to email me. Barry Fleig. Bartonius84@hotmail.com