If you are in Alexandria, VA setting out to explore cemeteries nearby for clues about your family history, you’ve already met part of the criteria by being curious. Now, keep reading for some tips on being as productive and efficient as possible in your search.
1. Finding the cemetery
Pinpoint the cemetery
Identifying an old resting place without extensive context may not be easy, but it is certainly doable. A copy of the deceased’s obituary or death certificate will lead you to where they died and, if not where they are buried, then a general idea of the area.
With that, you can backtrack to the cemetery or the funeral home and ask to see their records for more information. Several online tools are available to help you locate burial sites by county, region, or even country from the comfort of your computer.
Anticipate possible changes
Nevertheless, it’s worth keeping in mind changes that may have happened over time. The listed funeral home or cemetery may have had a change of ownership/administration/name etc.
For instance, if they now go by an entirely different name, this may affect search results. So, to be sure, you may want to take the pain of asking about pertinent changes between the timeline of the death you’re investigating and now.
2. What to bring with you to the cemetery
If you will be doing the legwork yourself, consider your goal and bring appropriate supplies. E.g., Is it rainy and marshy where you are going? Do you want to document what you find or just visit? How old is the grave expected to be, so you can prepare for inscription fading? Etc.
In light of these, items you may need include:
- Elements-appropriate clothing, shoes, and accessories
- Flashlight/reading aid
- Pen and paper
- Bug repellant
3. What to do at the cemetery
After arriving at the burial site, you may need to get permission for certain actions, so be sure to talk to those in charge before carrying on. To get the most out of your trip, consider documenting what you find.
Even if at first it seems there isn’t much to gather from the ancient grave in front of you, a second or third look might just reveal something. The headstone, if properly maintained, may offer clues about their belief, culture, who else you should be looking for, how they lived and/or died, or even how they looked.
If you’re visiting for research purposes, you may want to jot down your findings, especially if you are likely to forget them otherwise.
You may also want to take photos of your loved one’s gravestone. What you do with you with the images is entirely up to you. Uploading and transcribing them online is an option if you’d like to make the GPS location accessible.
Many cemeteries around Arlington County, VA already have their burial records and maps published online, making the search process easier. At Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, we recommend visiting (virtually or physically) beforehand to know what to expect. Call our office today to take a step closer to preserving your legacy.