Spring is in the air. For most, that would mean the thoughts of gardening and flowers but for me and I suspect a great deal of genealogists our thoughts turn to cemeteries. Not to sound morbid but if you have been stuck in your armchair staring at the computer screen for the better part of the winter then now is the time to plan a cemetery outing.
Many leads in your family research can be gained through a trip to a graveyard. However, just don't head out without a plan. A successful research trip to the cemetery involves careful planning.
Step 1. Find the Right Cemetery
Decide which one of your ancestors you are looking for and narrow down where they may be located. There are many excellent websites that can help you. If you're in Ontario like myself then check out the Ontario Genealogy Society at http://www.ogs.on.ca/ who have transcribed 95% of Ontario's cemeteries or in the US http://www.findagrave.com/ is a helpful site. Another Internet site I have just uncovered which works for all of Canada and the US is Cemetery and Tombstone Transcriptions and Death and Burial Registers online. This is a very comprehensive site with lots of great information.
Step 2. Mapping Your RouteOnce you have determined your cemeteries of choice then next step is to map your route.
Map quest and your GPS is your friend in planning a direct route to the cemetery in question. I always print out copies of my travel directions from the Map quest website in order to keep me on track.
Step 3. The Cemetery Office
Upon arriving at the cemetery visit the office if your cemetery is large enough to warrant one. Often there is someone on duty during regular business hours who can offer you maps and locations of tombstones, some even other washroom services. Don't underestimate the knowledge this office has in saving you a great deal of walking and your feet. Many are computerized and will quickly enter in the name of your ancestor and send you off in the right direction. In larger cemeteries the grounds are often numbered or alphabetized for identifying quickly the location of the tombstone.
Step 4. Tools of the Trade
Make sure you have the essentials to capture the important information, a camera with back up batteries and back up SD card. Pictures are the best way to capture tombstones and to keep records for future generations. Also take pictures of your ancestors neighbouring tombstones. Often when you get further into your research you realized that a missing relative was lying next to your Great-great grandfather and you didn't know it.
Sometimes older tombstones don't photograph well. A quick outline with white chalk can make the letters on a grave marker more visible in a picture. It easily washes off in the rain. Or if you are up to the task you can bring tracing paper and lay on the tombstone and make a transparency. Bring a clipboard, pens and pencils for making notes. Some clippers for clearing away long grass and weeds. And an umbrella, often what started out as a beautiful day can sometimes find yourself standing in the middle of a rainstorm.
Without a doubt a good pair of comfortable shoes can make the difference in a highly productive and successful cemetery outing.