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7 Ways to Find an Ancestor's Burial Without a Headstone

Somewhere along the path of indentifying your ancestors, it is wise to visit the cemetery where they were buried. If your ancestor attended a church, you may discover a grave there, or perhaps your ancestor was buried in a public cemetery when there was no longer room for burials in the church cemetery.

Do not be surprised of you are not able to find your ancestor's headstone. Perhaps it did not endure the test of time, or maybe the family could not afford one. If finding your ancestor's final resting place is important to you, here are a few tips to try if you do not find a headstone in the cemetery:

1. Interview family members to find out the names of cemeteries or to see if anyone remembers visiting your ancestor's grave.

2. Check the local newspapers for obituaries published just after the death of your ancestor. Also, check for memoriams published a year after your ancestor's death. If the newspaper is not online, check the local library to see if they have it on microfilm or if they have an obituary index.

3. Look for a death certificate for your ancestor to see if it mentions the place of burial.

4. Check the local funeral home to see if they have a burial record for your ancestor which may give information about the cemetery where your ancestor was interred. Hopefully they can provide a map showing where your ancestor is buried.

5. Check the secretary or recorder of the church where your ancestor attended to see if they have knowledge of the burial or the time period that burials took place in the church cemetery. Find out the names of public cemeteries that members were using at the time.

6. Check probate records to see if information about the funeral or burial is included. While researching people interred in Fairview Cemetery in the Greenwood County Courthouse, I have come across receipts revealing payment for final arrangements to funeral homes and other expenses. This is a good starting place if you have no idea when your ancestor died.

7. Find out who in your family collects funeral programs. In African American families, there is usually at least one person that has a stack of them at least 12 inches high. Funeral programs usually provide the place of burial.

Just because you have a headstone does not mean your ancestor is actually buried in that spot. My great great grandmother's children placed a marker for her in Fairview Cemetery and in a cemetery in Greenville, South Carolina. According to her death certificate, she was buried in Greenville. Also another example is just before the inital cleanup of Fairview Cemetery took place on May 31st, a woman had a local funeral home move her mother from Fairview Cemetery to a different cemetery in Greenwood because of the condition of Fairview Cemetery.

Do you have any other tips that will help someone who is trying to find proof of an ancestor's burial? Please share your ideas below.

I hope you find these tips useful. I have learned a lot in the process of working to save Fairview Cemetery, and I will continue to share here on "Gone But Not Forgotten."

To learn more about Fairview Cemetery, click here.


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