Visiting Cemeteries to Preserve Family History

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As a veteran genealogist, cemeteries are my favorite tourist attraction.

I admit, when most people plan a recreational activity that will be fun for the whole family, cemeteries may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But here’s the thing about cemeteries: they are quiet, peaceful, often quite beautiful, and a fascinating treasure trove of historical information. Especially if your own ancestors are buried there, there are so many things you can learn from grave markers that you can’t learn anywhere else.

I have had the privilege of visiting numerous cemeteries and visiting the graves of many of my ancestors. Unfortunately, as an immigrant and the child of immigrants, most of my ancestors’ graves are located very far away from where I live. With the travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19, many people like me are unable to make the journey.

What we can do now, though, is visit websites where cemeteries across the world are documented. MyHeritage has numerous burial record collections from all over the world, and some of them are linked to projects such as BillionGraves. What’s great about BillionGraves is that anyone, anywhere, can volunteer to add priceless family records to the online collection. All you have to do is download the app, take photos of each gravestone, and upload the information to the website.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to visit the graves of my ancestors, and when I do, I like to pay it forward. I make an activity of documenting not only my own ancestors’ graves, but all the graves in the cemetery, and uploading them to BillionGraves. That way, people who are not able to travel to that cemetery will still be able to “visit” the gravestones of their ancestors.

I believe that visiting a local cemetery could make a perfect family outing for the COVID-19 era. It’s all outdoors, it’s peaceful, there are no crowds, and you are guaranteed a six-foot social distance from all the people you are visiting! If your own ancestors are buried there, it’s a great opportunity to learn more about them and introduce their gravesites to your children. If not, it can still be fascinating to learn more about local history. And if you decide to document some of the stones, it would be an act of community service — providing descendants who live far away with access to priceless information about their ancestors.

Here are some tips for your cemetery outing:

  • Find a cemetery to visit: If you have ancestors buried nearby, you might want to visit them. Alternatively, you can find another interesting cemetery to visit: one that is particularly old, for example, or one in your area that hasn’t been fully documented.
  • Make sure to bring water, a sunhat, and sunscreen: Most cemeteries aren’t shaded, and it’s hot out there!
  • Be respectful of any burials taking place: If there is a burial in session, be sensitive to the mourners. You may choose to quietly join the service, or to move on to a different area to respect the family’s privacy.
  • Make it a treasure hunt: Look for interesting tidbits: unusual sculptures or inscriptions, particularly old stones, interesting symbols, and the like. If you’re aware of any historical figures from local history, keep your eyes peeled for their names.
  • Contribute to documentation efforts: You can join websites like BillionGraves and use their systems to document gravestones in your local cemeteries. As mentioned above, this is a wonderful service for people whose ancestors are buried there. But be sure to get permission from the cemetery staff first, as there may be rules against photographing in the cemetery.

Want to find out where your own ancestors are buried before you get started? Search MyHeritage’s death record collections now.

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  • Aviya


    July 20, 2020

    Amazing idea

  • Bob Betts


    September 13, 2020

    BillionGraves sounds like a great idea that I might like to contribute to. However, I do not have a smart phone or Android device but I do have a perfectly good camera. I am able to take photos and copy them to my PC. Is there a way to upload them from my PC to BillionGraves to help add to the database?

  • Nck


    September 14, 2020

    Where is Charlotte Louise Burckhardt’s Family Crypt located?
    Regards
    Nick

  • Faye


    September 15, 2020

    I asked my grandfather one time why he liked to visit graveyards he always answered “to if there was someone he knew “. This was a Sunday drive routine.