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at the cemetery
my summer vacation or a visit to the cemetery

By Deborah K. Millemaci
(return to genealogy)

For many of us, a visit to a cemetery is a solemn experience. But for family historians it can provide missing clues to our past. Last month I made several visits to the cemetery where my father, grandparents, and other relatives rest. The weather was hot, and trudging through the various areas I needed to visit was exhausting for me. However, I hope that what I discovered will help others who will eventually use a cemetery as a genealogical resource.

I had been searching for the grave of an ancestor of my grandfather's. I still have no idea exactly what his relationship was to our family. The only clue I had was a yellowed and tattered card (Holy Card) listing his name and date of death, which I found in some personal belongings of my late grandmother. I needed more information and wasn't sure where to start! Obituaries are published in newspapers, so I contacted our local public library to see if they still had these notices on microfilm. I also contacted City Hall and was able to obtain a copy of his death certificate (for a fee of $10), which listed the cemetery he was interred in. Once I received this information, I then contacted the cemetery. They were extremely helpful and were able to give me directions I needed to locate the grave.

A few days later, feeling anxious but hopeful, my friend and I set out on what I thought would be a successful visit. I had the location information with me and I figured it would be very easy to find. I also brought my camera with me, as I was expecting to take several photographs of the headstone. We trudged the perimeter of where we thought the grave would be and found nothing. The sun was beating down on us, humidity was getting higher, and I was getting cranky. After almost an hour of fruitless searching, we decided that maybe we should postpone our search for a day when the weather was a little cooler. We waited until the beginning of the following week to try again. The weather was comfortable and we decided we would take our time. I brought my camera and information I had with me on our previous visit. Upon entering the cemetery we stopped in the main office to try and see if we could receive better directions to the gravesite. The staff were very accomodating and provided us with a map that pinpointed the exact location of the grave. They also provided us with names of people on either side of the grave we were looking for.

Armed with this information, we headed out on our quest to find my long-lost relative. I was worried that I might not be able to see the grave, as I feared it had long been covered by grass, but my friend assured me we would find it. As we got closer, a strange feeling came over me. It was a combination of apprehension and excitement at the same time. I was finally going to face a part of my family's past...but still not knowing exactly how this person fit into the puzzle. As we approached the area outlined on the map, I first checked the two grave markers on either side. Then I slowly walked over to the center grave marker. Taking a deep breath, I gazed at the name on the marker, which read: "Husband - Antonino Millemaci 1891-1935."

I stood there for the longest time wondering who this person was. A thousand questions went through my mind, but I knew that none of my relatives would be able to answer them. Still, I felt a sense of accomplishment, that after many years I succeeded in finding a relative that had been long lost. I immediately took some photographs that I would add to the compiled information on my family. I left a flower to mark the site and as I walked away I noticed familiar monuments and trees and realized that this relative was located not far from my grandmother. I knew that I would never have trouble finding this grave again and that I would be visiting often.

There are a few tips I would like to share with you based on my personal experience that may be of help to you when trying to locate a relative in a cemetery.

  1. Try to have as much information on your ancestor before going to the cemetery. Death certificates will list the name of the cemetery, and prayer cards from funeral homes will often list the cemetery and location of the person to be interred.
  2. Bring location information with you if you have it. If this is not possible, visit the main office for the cemetery and ask for help. They are used to people requesting genealogy information and are most accomodating. They will supply you with a map (upon request) that will make it much easier to locate your relative.
  3. Don't forget your camera and a small notebook and pen to record information. You will find these invaluable as you will have a visual and written account of your visit. Note landmarks such as trees, or names of people or monuments. Becoming familiar with what surrounds your ancestor will only make it easier to find the spot on your next visit.
I was excited about doing this particular article because of the experience itself and about the perseverance that paid off through my research. And maybe with my next visit to the cemetery, I will be able to share with you more of what I learned. There is more to cemetery research than just finding a headstone with your ancestor's name on it, and I will expand on this fascinating area of study in a future issue.

©Deborah K. Millemaci - 2002
No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.


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