Finding Clues in Death
Burial information about our ancestors can come from several sources – obituaries, headstone inscriptions, death certificates, and newspaper articles.
The burial locations of our ancestors are known as cemeteries, graveyards, burying grounds, burial grounds, burial plots, ‘churchyards’, and several other terms. Some of the terms are often used to define smaller cemeteries, such as those that may be adjacent to a church, and called a “churchyard.”
Cemeteries may be operated by a municipality, or they may be operated by a church, a funeral home or other private company. Some may be located on private land or in the woods on a farm. Depending on the availability of suitable land, it may be quite small, or it may be very large. Some burial plots may contain only one or several graves, while a few very large ones may have thousands of burials.
Obituaries offer a brief biographical sketch of our ancestors and perhaps the events that shaped their lives. Understanding these events can give you insight into the journey that made your family who they are today. During your obituary search, you’ll undoubtedly find other research avenues opening up. An obituary can yield clues about relationships of the deceased, organizations they were affiliated with, and the location of hospital and cemetery records.
Headstone inscriptions are information recorded on headstones (also known as tombstones or gravestones). Even when burial or death records exist, headstone inscriptions might provide information that the church or civil certificate of death does not, such as place of birth. Sometimes, multiple family members are buried in the same vault and the inscription will give information on all that are buried there. The information recorded on headstones is of primary importance. Often, this information has been transcribed, indexed, and published and is found in manuscripts and books in libraries and archives.