How do you find the final resting places of your dearly (or not so dearly) departed ancestors? If your family hasn’t kept accurate records, or your family has moved around the country quite a lot, this may not be a trivial question. For this month’s installment of Genealogy for Geeks, I offer two sources for finding where your ancestors are laid to rest.
Ancestry.com‘s Military Headstone Archive: A Civil War Experience
At Ancestry.com‘s Military Headstone Archive: A Civil War Experience, a long, fascinating, and interactive multimedia presentation of Civil War photos, letters, and other archival items takes you to some of the most famous battlefields of the Civil War. In addition, you can search for your Civil War ancestors who are buried at the battlefield cemeteries. Throughout the experience, you learn about the different battles, and the history of the war. Photos from war time are paired with modern photos and videos of the same location. There are book pages to turn, historical documents to study, paintings to look at, and video to watch, and each screen is accompanied by appropriate sound effects or songs. Most pages have some kind of movement as you interact with them. Certain pages have information on specific Civil War soldiers, whose information you can then study further on Ancestry.com.
The areas of Shiloh, Antietam, Stones River, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Poplar Grove are featured in the multimedia experience, and you can search a database from within the program to find headstone images from those battlefield cemeteries. This database seems to just include those areas, but the very last screen of the presentation has many more National Cemeteries listed that you can click on and search. The whole experience has an old time feel to it, which makes it seem like you’re in a museum. Unfortunately, my Civil War ancestor took almost two weeks to die after being mortally wounded at Gettysburg, and he’s actually buried in Pittsburgh (see below).
A more general way to find the buried dead, from all parts of the population, is a website called Find A Grave, which I have used frequently. This is where I found information on my great grandparents, who are buried in Cleveland, Ohio. This summer, my kids and I searched the section of the cemetery where my ancestors are buried, but despite our systematic search method, we couldn’t find their gravestones. Find A Grave even has pictures of their headstones, yet we still never found them.
We had a similar experience with my Civil War ancestor. Through Find A Grave, I discovered that he is buried in an old cemetery on a big hill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While the website had some information on his burial, I couldn’t pin down in what part of the cemetery he is buried. So once again we visited the cemetery, searched for a while, and came up empty handed.
For both of these adventures, however, I’m sure that if we had had more time and less miserable weather that we could have found the right gravestones. You can also use Find A Grave to find out where famous people are buried, but I have not yet been on that kind of hunt. Also, if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the website, they encourage you to continue your search at Ancestry.com.
Have you tried to visit the grave of a somewhat distant relative? What was your experience like?