Tips on finding the Burial Location of your Relative
There are over ten thousand burial locations in Illinois, 272 in the Chicago area alone.. They provide an important physical link to our past containing a wealth of genealogical information. They provide a unique insight into our customs, beliefs, and culture. If you want to learn about people, study their cemeteries. For the beginning or advanced genealogist, cemeteries can help when other sources fail. You may discover infants that were born and died between census years. You may discover an aunt or second wife, not known about.
If you are looking for YOUR Uncle Louie who has seemingly disappeared or you simply do not know where he is buried, Here are thirteen steps:
- Start by writing down what you know. It might be a death date or a funeral remembered. It might simply be a family story of where the person was last seen. Write down the name of a spouse, or children. Write down or even guess at the birth date. You need first to simply create the best profile of the person. Small clues can be very helpful.
- Check and recheck your family records. Look at wills, letters from or to family members, obituary clippingsor deeds. Don’t overlook family bibles, scrapbooks, and diaries for clues. Interview older family members. You may discover birth certificates, baptism records, or any number of valuable documents.
- Build or reread the profile of the person you are searching for. This will aid in determining the cemetery in which they may have been buried. People are predictable, creatures of habit. They follow patterns consistent with the customs of the time. Residence, church membership, employment all will help you establish a idea where and when the person resided. Even in a city as large as Chicago, residents maintained strong ties to neighborhood, most often by ethnic origin.
- Narrow your estimate of the death date. Knowing the death date will allow you to rule out cemeteries that have not yet opened, cemeteries that were inactive, or those that had reached capacity at the time. The month of death can sometimes be a clue. A death during a harsh winter might mean temporary interment tin a cemetery that had a holding vault. Bodies were often held until spring when the ground thawed enough for digging the grave.
- Look for a death certificate. Familysearch.org is a free website. Register for free. Ancestry, a subscription site is also a good resource.
6. Try to determine the last residence. Burials are often made in some proximity to the residence or neighborhood of the deceased. Although there are numerous exceptions to this rule, start your search in cemeteries that served the neighborhood or town of the deceased. As a general rule, the older the burial date, the more likely it will be in closer proximity to his or her last residence. As late as the end of the 19th century, burials were still made in urban areas near the home or residence. Although zoning lawsput an end to this practice within the city, farm burial plots are very common, many of which have vanished from our memory and records.
- If religion was important in their life, try to determine the religious affiliation of the person. Death and burial often follow the customs, rites, and beliefs of the church. The religion of the deceased often influences the choice of burial location. The Catholicand Jewish faiths consecrate individual graves and entire cemeteries. Members are usually obligated to be buried in consecrated ground. Church related cemeteries are usually easier to identify, although some have lost their identity through the years. If the person you are searching had little or no religious affiliation, try the municipal or community cemetery. If there is a history of Fraternal membership,seek those cemeteries that provided space for fraternal lodges and societies.
- Determine the economic position of the person you are searching for. There are cemeteries for both the poor and the rich. Fashionable families, politicians, and the famous often buried their dead in Rosehill, Oakwoods, and Graceland. The poor were buried in potters fields throughout the city. Knowing the economic status will help you identify a potential cemetery.
- Think about the customs and practices of the family. Did they move often? Were they long time residents of the community?. Along time resident may have been more apt to have selected a burial location well in advance. A family with less “roots” may have just chosen the most convenient cemetery. Families who migrated from other areas might return a body back home. Depending on the time of death, consider the possibility of cremation. If the person was a victim of an epidemic or disaster, the burial might have been made in a special section in the cemetery.
- If the death certificate or other documents have not yielded a burial location, identify all the cemetery possibilities that fit the profile of the person you are searching. You can rule out many cemeteries, such as those cemeteries opening after a death date.
- Write or call these cemeteries. Although many cemeteries will help you without charge, some will charge for the service, others discourage genealogical research. Be polite, specific, and make only reasonable requests. If the cemetery is church related, a donation or offer of a donation is always a good idea.
- If you have located a family member in a particular cemetery, plan an in person visit to seek additional information. Choose good weather for your cemetery visit. Wear comfortable, protective clothing especially for visiting cemeteries that are in poor condition. Be safe. Some cemeteries may be in less than desirable neighborhoods. Follow your instincts. Leave you are not comfortable in a particular area. Avoid isolated areas unless you have someone with you. Get permission if the cemetery is on private land. If there is an office, they can often locate the grave on a map for you. Some cemeteries will allow you to examine their record books. At the gravesite, the stone or marker may reveal additional information not in cemetery records. On some occasions, there may even be conflicting information. Nearby stones and markers may reveal other family members, wife or husband, children, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.
- Try locating a transcription of the gravestones or the records. The Daughters of the American Revolution, local genealogical groups, and historical societieshave carefully copied and published thousands of cemeteries. Always try to verify any information found in a transcription with that of a primary source such as a death certificate or cemetery record.
With patience, persistence, and a bit of good luck, you will find the burial location of your missing relative. With a bit more effort and luck, you will find additional and valuable genealogical information from the gravestone, cemetery records, or the death certificate itself.
If you have hit a brick wall, email me with what you know and I will try to help. I have many research tools at my disposal. Barry A Fleig firstname.lastname@example.org