It’s Halloween and what better way to celebrate during the pandemic than to visit your ancestors in a cemetery.  Now these are not spooky ideas, just fun ideas to help research your ancestors in graveyards and cemeteries, both in person and online. I’ve got 10 ideas to help you find your ancestors in cemeteries.

Fall is a great time of year to visit cemeteries.  It’s a great way to get out of the house, get a little exercise, do a little soul searching and dig (not literally) for your ancestors.  Here are ten ideas to help you find your ancestors in cemeteries.

#1 Before you set out on your outdoor adventure, go online and look for your cemetery’s website, (if they have one).  Find the location, hours of operation and rules about visiting.  Call ahead to make sure the website is accurate during the pandemic and that the cemetery is actually open.

#2 Go on Find-A-Grave, Billion Graves, and Cemetery Census and locate your ancestors.  Are they there?  If so, make sure you’ve noted all the information in your records.  Leave flowers on Find A Grave so you know and let others know that you’ve been to this site.  

#3 On Find A Grave, or Billion Graves, research the cemetery for all surnames of the Target Ancestor you’re researching and hope to visit at the cemetery.  Create a virtual Cemetery for those ancestors so you can retrieve them later.  Go here for more information about Find A Grave Virtual Cemeteries and Leaving Flowers.

#4 Print or have access to your family information when you visit the cemetery so you can review information on site.  Ancestry, Family Search, Find A Grave, Billion Graves all have Apps you can use to look up ancestors at the location.

#5 Pack for your visit. To clear debris, bring a camera, rake, soft brush, grass clippers, and a spray bottle with water to clean and photograph the tombstones.  Bring a mirror, reflector, camera flash, or very bright flashlight to help light the tombstone from the side. Sometimes this helps to bring out the lettering in older tombstones and reduce shadows from the trees above.  Cloudy days are great for photographing tombstones.

#6 Take pictures of your Target Ancestors tombstone or grave site, surrounding area and the front entrance of the cemetery.  Take close pictures and make sure that the tombstone can be read as good as possible.  Take wide shots with the Target Ancestors tombstone, but also include the tombstones around the Target Ancestors.  It may be a relative buried nearby.  Using the information you collected from your online research, attempt to find all the related ancestors within the same cemetery and photograph them too.

#7 Cleaning tombstones and clearing grass and debris and help your photographs.  Be sure to ask permission from either surviving family members or the cemetery before using any chemicals on tombstones. Know what you’re doing when using cleaners as some can do permanent damage to softer stones. The act of using chalk to highlight the markings on tombstones to help bring out their lettering is not advised these days and it may wear down softer stones.

#8 Find A Grave and Billion Graves both have apps that allow you to add photos and information while physically on site from your cell phone.  If your Target Ancestors grave has already been photographed and uploaded to Find A Grave, consider uploading a wider shot to show the surrounding area.  For the tech savvy, consider uploading the GPS coordinates of each grave you visit.

#9 Pack a lunch and have water on hand. Bring the kids or grandkids and tell the stories of your ancestors while you have a picnic nearby.

#10 Bring a camera. If you’re really into photography like I am, cemeteries can be a great place to practice your craft in still life and wildlife photography. Cemeteries, especially old ones, are full of great photographic opportunities from great architecture to wildlife and nature scenes.

Lastly, be prepared for weather, plan your trip, bring your ancestors information, gas up the car, get out of the house, and go have fun.