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Monday, July 18, 2016

Part 3: Finding the Cemetery

Grave of James M. and Minnie L. Williams in Butler Cemetery, Hodges, South Carolina
Robin Foster, July 4, 2005

This is the third article in a series where you will find more ways to identify the cemetery where your ancestor is buried (See Part 2: More places to discover a cemetery).
Sometimes the cemetery is the first bit of information that you discover about an ancestor if you know the area where they lived. The photo above of the grave of James M. and Minnie L. Williams was taken in Butler Cemetery in Hodges, South Carolina on a tour with an extended family member on July 4, 2005. Names and dates discovered there led to death certificates which revealed links to the generation before. What if no one is alive to share oral history with you? Try the following strategies:

The United States Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) is a government database that can help you find the names of known cemeteries in the area where your ancestor lived. If your ancestor died in Greenwood County, South Carolina you could search this database for the names of possible cemeteries using the following steps:
  1. Go to USGS GNIS.
  2. Select the state (South Carolina) from the drop down menu.
  3. Select the county (Greenwood).
  4. Select cemetery from the Feature Class list.
  5. Click “Send Query.”
The results will include a list of cemeteries in Greenwood County, South Carolina. This is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but if you have no other information about which cemetery your ancestor was buried in, this is a start. You now have to research the cemeteries.

It is helpful if you have researched the family clusters in an area. Perhaps some of the cemetery names are familiar to you. Maybe you have come across some of the cemeteries in you research of the family church. You could ask family members if they remember any of the names on the list.

More tips
  • Contact the cemeteries that look promising and ask them to check burial records. Sometimes you will have more success contacting the city government office to find out who is listed as the owner of the cemetery if it has been abandoned.
  • Other cemeteries may now be under the stewardship of a historical society who can help with records of those interred. Funeral home directors in the area can also help by sharing their knowledge of who the current record keepers may be.
  • Contact the local genealogical society to see if they have cemetery books or databases they could check for your ancestor’s name.
  • Look at the map of your ancestor’s homestead and the proximity of each cemetery. Start with the ones closer. You can search Google Maps for the name of cemeteries where you can see a satellite view of the area. Many people have had much success with locating ancestors whose burial information has previously been entered on Find A Grave.

Find A Grave
Search for the possible cemeteries where your ancestor was buried on Find A Grave. Search for your family members among the list of those buried there. Not every cemetery on Find A Grave has each person that was interred. If you find your ancestor, make sure that their bio is up-to-date.

If there is no photograph of the grave and it is too far for you to travel, make a request for a volunteer who lives close by to submit a photo. If you have other family members buried there, make these requests at this time too.

Be sure to thank the person who offered this service. It took four years, but the request for the photo of George Epps Tucker’s grave was honored just this year. Most do not take more than a few weeks or less in good weather.

Review plat maps of the area which should be available at the county courthouse. These can help you identify the existence of cemeteries. Also, see “Land Ownership (Plat) Maps.”
"Old and new maps can help you track down facts about a branch of your family. How? In the United States, birth, death, property, and some other kinds of records are normally kept by the county governments. If you can name the place where an ancestor lived, new or old maps of that place may also show the county seat where useful data about your kin can be obtained." See“Using Maps in Genealogy.”


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