What I mean by Hunting Down Headstones
Hunting Down Headstones is how I describe the process of finding the cemetery, traveling to the cemetery, locating the burial plot in the cemetery, walking to a marker, and recording an image when I find a marker, or photographing the unmarked plot and area when there is no marker. I also like to photograph the main entry and any other scenes that interest me.
On this page I will outline steps for “Finding Their Locations” and give you some tips and suggestions to make your hunting trip fruitful and fun, instead of a frustrating failure.
Before you go Hunting Down Headstones, you must know where they are and how to get there.
HUNTING FOR THE CEMETERY
Step 1 – Find the Cemetery Name
To find a headstone, you must know the name of the cemetery where this grave is located. This sounds simple, right? Usually it is, but not always. The “legal” name of the cemetery may not be the name that the locals use, or what is written on the sign at the entrance.
Death Certificates usually include the name of the cemetery, and sometimes list the funeral home who took care of the arrangements for the deceased. If the cemetery has not been listed, contact the funeral home or the County Clerks office to see if they have a record of the burial and the name of the cemetery.
If you search memorial websites, such as Find-A-Grave, BillionGraves, Interment.net and USGenWeb you may find that a memorials for the person exists online and they often include cemetery information.
Step 2: Where in the world?
Most GPS devices need a street address to calculate directions for you, but did you know that most cemeteries do not have a street address? Why? Because unless there is an Office located at the cemetery there is no mail delivery, and without mail delivery, there is no need for a street address.
Most cemeteries listed in Find-A-Grave include coordinates of the cemetery and sometimes include a a map. You can also do is an internet search for the cemetery, and if you are lucky, the search will yield a map of the cemetery location. You can study the map to get your bearings, or even print out a map and driving directions from your location.
Step 3: Surprises
With many smaller cemeteries, a neighbor or the town Parks Manager is the groundskeeper and holds the key to the cemetery, and from this person you can find out what hours the cemetery is open. Having this information is better than arriving to find the gates locked and entrances blocked. The general rule of “Dawn to Dusk” does not apply to all cemeteries as it does to the local playground.
Inquire if this cemetery has vehicle access. You should know in advance if you are only allowed to walk the whole area or if there are roads and trails that can be driven on. You may even encounter a burial ground / cemetery that you can not or may not have access to due to fencing around the area, or if it is on private property. The general rule of thumb if you encounter a cemetery on private property (such as a country farm) is to always get permission from the owner first, and even ask for them to escort you to the area. Don’t forget your manners even if you are denied access.
Step 4: Special Events
Our local cemetery often “closes” on Saturday afternoons when there is a home football game. Why? Because the cemetery is located next to the football field and is closer than the parking lot, so it must be closed so people do not fill the cemetery roads with parked cars and trample across the graves.
You may want to ask if there are any planned funerals for that day, so that you are not hopping around a cemetery section during a burial service. You can always wait it out until the service is over in a discrete section of the cemetery.
There are several dates when services are held to honor veterans (Memorial Day or Veterans Day), or civil war sections with special programs or dedications, so plan your Hunting accordingly.
Step 5: Cemetery Rules and Regulations
The entrance of almost every cemetery has posted Rules and Regulations posted. Here are some that we have encountered along the way. Some are obvious, some are not.
Hours – Obey the clock – and watch your time. It is easy to get caught up in the hunt, but if the cemetery has gates that close and lock, it could lead to a long night among the fields of family members. The cemetery will not send someone out to find you and shoo you out the gate, when it is time for them to call it a day, trust me, they want to go home and they lock the gates behind them.
Flowers – there are usually rules as to fresh and “fake” flowers. Don’t even bother to “sneak” in the silks when fresh are allowed. They will remove them and destroy them.
Decorations – Some cemeteries allow solar lights, pinwheels, statues, balloons, lawn furniture, vases, gazeboes / floral arches, candles. Some allow nothing. If visiting a grave, learn what is accepted.
Military Markers and Flags – Many military graves are marked with flag holders. Use special care if you need to temporarily remove one to get a photo of the stone or just to reposition one that has fallen or become broken. Never force these items. If you come across one that is in need of repair, report it to the office or sexton.
Water – Feed the flowers, not your family. Cemeteries often have watering stations so you can fill a watering can to give the flowers a drink, but do not drink from these spigots. It is not potable – it is not clean or sanitized for human consumption.
HUNTING FOR THE PLOT
Sometimes, the cemetery is small enough that you can walk it entirely and look at each marker, but this “Brute Force” method soon becomes tiresome and you will want to find a more efficient method.
Most cemeteries have maps of their plots, and some have made these maps available online. If the map is not online, you can contact the cemetery and ask them to send you a map showing the plot location. Keep in mind that there are about as many “owners” of cemeteries as there are cemeteries themselves.
You may also find maps in the following locations:
- The cemetery sexton usually has a map
- Maps may be posted on a wall in the cemetery or in a storage shed – get permission to gain access.
- Maps may be available at the local library, genealogical and historical societies.