The oldest maintained cemetery in the United States is located in Duxbury, Mass. The 1.5-acre plot contains 130 graves from the first pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620, but they left no written burial records to help future generations trace their family trees. In fact, the cemetery was abandoned in 1789 and forgotten until a historical group began exhuming bodies in the late 1880s. The unmarked grave of Plymouth Colony commander, Capt. Myles Standish, was located and a memorial was erected.
Now imagine how many other burial grounds or family cemetery plots were created across the United States as the new nation was formed and the difficulty in trying to find a relative who may have been buried in one of them.
To trace your family tree with burial records, follow this step-by-step guide:
1. Start by interviewing living relatives.
Your search for ancestors usually starts with family interviews to trace your family tree back as far as anyone who is alive can recall.
2. Verify the information with government records.
Verify the information given to you by family members by searching for the actual birth and death records, which can reveal additional clues such as the maiden name of the mother or the name of a father of a child born to an unwed mother.
3. Expand the research to newspapers.
With birth and death records verified, begin searching newspaper archives for birth announcements and obituaries. Obituaries often will include the name of the cemetery or at least provide the location of their death, which often provides clues to the location of the burial.
4. Find the cemetery by searching online databases.
If the obituary included the name of the cemetery, there are many online databases available with information about cemeteries across the United States. The National Network of Cemeteries has more than 300 cemeteries in 28 states and Puerto Rico in their online database to get you started to find a cemetery. Other websites to search include Billiongraves.com and findagrave.com.
5. Locate the gravesite through burial records.
Once you have identified the cemetery, the next step is to find the actual gravesite. The National Network of Cemeteries does not include a database of its burials, but it lists contact information for each cemetery. The staff at most cemeteries are available to help find a grave by name. If that is not possible, visit the cemetery in person to locate the grave. Once you find it, don’t forget to photograph it and share it with BillionGraves.com, which has a goal of documenting every grave in the world.