Genealogy Road Trip Tip 14: Houses of worship & cemeteries

Tip 14: Houses of worship & cemeteries. Part of “Genealogy Road Trip Tips: Take Your Loved Ones With You” — 30 posts in 30 days for NaBloPoMo 2016.

Nothing quite compares to standing at the graveside of a long-lost ancestor or sitting quietly inside a house of worship where your forebears once belonged to the congregation.

Church and cemetery. Nothing quite compares to standing at an ancestor’s graveside or sitting quietly inside their house of worship. By: Joel Kramer

Sometimes a house of worship may hold records that have not yet been digitized. Likewise, a cemetery tombstone may contain the only record of an ancestor’s birth and death if the paper records are gone.

So plan to visit ancestral houses of worship and cemeteries during your Genealogy Road Trip. Here are some tips on how to prepare and what you might discover:

Visiting a house of worship. Obituaries, death notices and death certificates sometimes indicate where your ancestors worshiped. You might also make an educated guess based on their religious denomination and where they lived.

Once you have identified an ancestral house of worship, make sure it is still active — then call ahead to see when it will be open during your visit. Speak to the clergy or church staff, explain the family history research you are doing, and ask about any records they may have on site.

For example, my dad, Norm Charboneau, and I visited a Presbyterian church in Forestport, Oneida County, New York where we thought our direct ancestors might have worshiped — and we were able to confirm this through onsite Sunday School records, spanning several years, that listed my great grandfather’s sister as a regular attendee.

Visiting an ancestral cemetery. Obituaries, death notices and death certificates — along with online cemetery directories and sites such as Find a Grave and Billion Graves — can help you identify where your loved ones might be buried.

Larger cemeteries often have offices, so call ahead to see what information they can provide — and when the cemetery is open. The office can usually provide a map with plot and lot numbers to help you find your ancestor’s final resting place. And be sure to ask about nearby stones — or those bearing your ancestor’s surname — as they might reveal additional family relationships.

My cousin Barb and her husband found our great, great grandfather William Dempsey’s final resting place in a relocated cemetery in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Maryland after our Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team used the above techniques. They also came away with written records from the cemetery office, as described in Dempsey cousins’ discoveries.

So use your ingenuity and creativity to identify — and plan a visit to — possible ancestral houses of worship and cemeteries at your destination. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you and your travel partner discover when you get there.

Up next, Tip 15: Oral history interviews. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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