Tips for looking for your ancestors in graveyards

Graveyards are a rich resource for finding out what happened to your ancestors. Church records and census searches can give you facts but you may find an extra detail or personal statement on a gravestone that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.¬†They are also extremely useful for filling in the ten-year gaps between census and for the period pre-registration of births, deaths and marriages. Also, stones do make clear the cumulative effect of many individual deaths

English Churchyard

They can also help shed light on family events and even looking at other grave markers in the vicinity will help build an understanding of what may have been affecting the community. The look of a gravestone may give you an idea of how well off the family were (of course many people could not afford gravestones).

Finding your family gravestones

The first obvious step is to try and locate where you think the gravestones might be. The normal route for this is first of all to establish quite where the family lived. Locate the census records for the individual or family, and then see what parish or district they are in. Ancestry.com or findmypast.co.uk have census records. Once you’ve found the parish you’ll probably have to switch websites to find one that serves out the relevant parish records.¬†These vary as to how much has been digitised but using this list may help you contact someone who is relevant.

Grave Detail England

Once you have located a likely location for burial then it may be time to start the footwork but I’ve also found that local history societies may be able to help. I remember once searching for why a great, great, great grandparent had disappeared from census records and her husband had potentially remarried. I located a likely parish for the burial, posted a note on local history societies bulletin boards and then one good-hearted soul went out found the gravestone and emailed me a picture of it. It was fantastic. Now you may not be so lucky but it could be worth a shot.

Tools of the trade
Persistence and Patience
A notebook and pen or of course an iPad if you like.
Camera (if you’re not using your tablet’s)
Gentle brush
Torch
Good hearty footwear
Gloves

Some of this stuff is pretty obvious but the brush is good for (gently) removing moss if you need to and the torch may be handy for if a gravestone is really worn. Shining the torch from a side angle may help you see the writing more clearly. The gloves and footwear will probably prove essential especially if you’re trudging through a English winter.

See out recent article on looking for your ancestors wills.

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