28 June 2010

Finding cemetery inscriptions and photographs online

Down the street from my house, there was an old cemetery that my sister and I visited—when we dared. We didn’t expect ghosts to rise up or bones to rattle, but it was a disconcerting place. After all, in the first row, there were granite markers for young children who had died, apparently from a contagious disease that nearly wiped out the entire family. We rarely saw anyone else visit the graves or leave flowers. It was a forgotten place, until John Fipphen published Cemetery Inscriptions, Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

Some cemeteries were visited by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) or Works Progress Administration (WPA), by family or cemetery associations like Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries Inc. Staten Island (FACSI), or by individuals like Fipphen—and their transcriptions may be available in microfilm, book, manuscript, or database format. To help you find such listings, check out books like David Allen Lambert's A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries and Janice Kohl Sarapin's Old Burial Grounds of New Jersey

However, it's the Internet, which attracts volunteers from all over the world, that has become an essential place to look for transcriptions, gravestone photos, and much more. My favorite site is Find a Grave, which I’ve watched grow exponentially over the years. Below, I’ve listed some national, New England, and local cemetery web sites. Also try search engines such as Google for cemetery listings. You may find currently operating cemeteries have databases online, such as the Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor, Maine. Some old cemeteries have been transcribed and posted online too, such as the Hampton, New Hampshire, cemetery database. Or you may find an old book, like Ogden Codman's Gravestone inscriptions and records of tomb burials in the Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Mass., which has the benefit of being published before some vagaries of time and weather erased tombstone details.

No luck finding transcriptions? Search for the cemetery name and location online to find out who owns or maintains it. I've had success contacting cemeteries, funeral homes, churches and religious societies, local libraries, and historical societies for manuscript transcriptions and burial records. For abandoned or town-owned graveyards, contact the town's cemetery division or department of public works.

Don't know where your ancestors are buried? Check if the death certificate or obituary mentions your ancestor's final resting place.  


USGenWeb Tombstone Transcription Project (see also USGenWeb state and county sites) 

New England


New Hampshire



Rhode Island


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