What are Cemetery Records?

C. Mitchell

In most cemeteries around the world, records are kept with respect to who is buried in which plot, the date of burial, and sometimes other factors like who purchased the plot. These records are collectively known as cemetery records. Most of the time, cemetery records are kept at the discretion of individual cemeteries, so the quality and depth of records usually varies greatly. Cemetery records are particularly important to genealogical researchers who want to discover where ancestors have been buried, and to discover new ancestors who may be buried nearby. Cemetery records are also valuable information stores when cemeteries are moved or destroyed, in order to piece track those whose remains have been affected.

Most cemeteries keep good records with regard to who is buried in which plot and the date of burial.
Most cemeteries keep good records with regard to who is buried in which plot and the date of burial.

Cemetery information like plot location and burial date is usually available from a cemetery’s information office. Information offices are commonly charged with selling and managing plots, arranging funerals, and maintaining the property, as well as with keeping burial records. Cemetery information offices, particularly for smaller cemeteries, are not always located on-site at the cemetery. When plots are moved, either due to changes in the land like flooding or municipal demands like construction and road development, the records and archives held by the office are used to ensure that the grave sites are moved intact and with the proper identification.

Cemetery information offices are in charge of managing plots and arranging funerals.
Cemetery information offices are in charge of managing plots and arranging funerals.

Public interest groups and genealogical research organizations also often compile cemetery records, particularly for old and abandoned cemeteries. Many antiquated cemeteries, particularly in Europe, have all but no records of plots or burials. Most of these cemeteries were connected to churches that stand now in ruins. Many of these churches either did not maintain comprehensive records, or what records they had were lost when the churches stopped operating.

Individual groups can piece together cemetery records by manually identifying marked graves; doing historical research, such as reading newspaper archives; and searching for any remaining information on community members at the time of the cemetery’s likely creation. Many of these private groups’ cemetery identification efforts are posted on online cemetery archives.

Online cemetery archives are patchwork information portals providing whatever information individual users and groups have submitted. The records they store are not usually verified, but are constantly updated and can be a valuable starting place for genealogical or other cemetery research. Some cemeteries also publish their own cemetery records online, usually to their cemetery-specific website.

Cemetery records are different from death records. Death records are usually maintained by government agencies and serve as proof that a person is deceased. Benefits like insurance payouts and property transfers often require a death certificate as proof of death. A cemetery record does not serve that same function.

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Discussion Comments


The internet has been very helpful for people who are researching cemetery records. Some cemeteries have these records online which can be big benefit for those doing family research.

Not all cemeteries offer this service, but some do, and I can see how many more will provide this in the future. Sometimes a cemetery record will be the only thing someone has to go in when they are doing family genealogy and having these public records available online can be a real time saver.

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