5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery

It’s sad — and rather frustrating — to go to a cemetery, take some photos, and realize when you get home that those photos don’t really help you. (It’s especially frustrating when you’re not able to get back to take more photos.) To help ease the frustration, here are 5 cemetery photos that you should get in the habit of taking every time:

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1. The Cemetery Sign​

The cemetery sign should be the first photo you take each time you go to the cemetery. I know it feels a little strange to take a picture before you even get into the cemetery. Honestly, this was a hard habit for me to get into, but I am so glad I did!

When you go to several cemeteries, you can lose track of which one was which. Having the sign as the first photo for that cemetery, you never have to wonder later, “Which cemetery was this?” All you need to do is scroll back through your photos until you get to the cemetery sign.​

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - cemetery sign

Havens Cemetery, Franklin County, Ohio

Not all cemeteries have a sign like the one for Havens Cemetery. In those cases, make your own. Write down the name (or the location if you don’t know the name) and take a picture of that.

2. The Entire Tombstone

I like to get a picture of the entire tombstone, even if I can’t read all of the details. (More on that in a moment.) You wouldn’t photocopy just one paragraph of an ancestor’s will. Treat the tombstone the same way: as a document. Get a photo showing the whole thing.

​EDIT: Make sure you get photos of the back and sides of the stone, too! (Thanks to everyone who reminded me that I forgot to mention it!)

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - the Entire Tombstone

Nellie Sager

3. Close-up Details

There are often details that aren’t legible in the photo of the entire tombstone. That’s when you want to take close-up shots. Take photos of the name and dates, the epitaph, symbols, and other details. (Take them from several angles to improve your odds of reading them later.)

Here’s a closeup of Nellie’s name and dates:

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - closeups

Nellie / dau of D & K Sager / died / Nov. 1, 1889 / aged 7 Ms 28 Ds

A closeup of the epitaph:

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - closeups

Clasped are her [?] / Over her pulseless breast / Angels have taken our darling / Nellie has gone to rest.

EDIT: Thanks to those who deciphered the last two words of the first line as "dimpled hands."

4. The Wider Shot

If you want to have some hope of finding that tombstone again, take several steps back and get a photo of the tombstone and the stones around it. This helps give you landmarks for finding it again. Little Nellie’s tombstone could easily be overlooked. But the larger Edgar tombstone stands out more. I can look for that stone again and know that Nellie is right in front of it.

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - wide shot

Nellie's stone in context with its surroundings

(Yes, I know that smartphone cameras can geo-tag a photo. But what if you don’t have cell coverage at that cemetery or you’re not using your phone? And what if you’re like me and have geo-tagging turned off?)

5. The Neighbors

Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery - nearby stones

Walter, son of D & K Sager is buried next to Nellie.

Our ancestors are often buried near other relatives. Get photos of the surrounding tombstones (including closeups of the inscriptions). Even if you don’t know how (or even if) those people are related now, you’ll have the information for when you do more research on the family later.

Buried next to Nellie is Walter E., son of D. & K. Sager, who died 4 January 1888, aged 3 years, 3 months, and 26 days. (How sad for the Sager family to lose two children in less than two years.)

Get in the Habit

It’s so easy to take tons of photos at the cemetery. Getting into the habit of taking these 5 photos will help you be less frustrated when you’re looking at them later.

What’s your “must take” photo at the cemetery?

5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery

5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery

Cemetery photos are great in genealogy, but only if you get the right ones. Here are 5 photos you should take every time you go to the cemetery.

166 thoughts on “5 Photos You Should Take at the Cemetery

  1. Hello – I think your gap may be “dimpled hands” – what do you think about the difference in size and style between the son’s marker and the infant daughter’s marker? Just curious.

    • I think you might be right about “dimpled hands.” I, too, wondered about the difference in the style of the stones. Perhaps the family thought a “simpler” stone would be more appropriate for a baby. You don’t often find larger monuments like Walter’s for an infant.

      • I’m also sure it’s dimpled hands, because I have seen an almost identical epitaph on a stone here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

        By the way, I know here it was quite popular to have a column stone for a boy child older than 2 years old, while girls, even to 10 years old, popularly had the “head”stone with flowers, animals, or something carved on it. I have also noticed the same thing in South Dakota. I have somewhere around 40,000 photos of stones, so I’m thinking back through a lot of them because I also wondered the same thing until I realized I saw a lot of those for boys and girls in the late 1800s.

        Also, I seriously feel bad for the dad because his wife/mom of the kids died in 1893 at 34 years old. Just… wow. And he lived to 1914! Poor guy. Life was rough back then…

    • Another photograph to take – would only be effective – is if there is an office with their phone number on their sign. That way you will have an address and phone number to call for more information. The last picture I would take before I left a cemetery would be a sign that you make that implies the end of photos from that cemetery.

      • I do the same thing. Some cemeteries I’ve visited didn’t have an office, but they did have a message/info board. Would get pictures of anything that has contact info on it.

      • Some cemeteries, at least here in Australia, have signs at the entrance with a map of the cemetery showing boundaries/names/numbers of each section. V helpful to take photos of these maps also.

  2. Great tips! I would add one thing: take photos of the sides/back of the tombstone. Sometimes there is more information engraved on them about the person buried there…or sometimes there is another name, because the tombstone marks multiple burials, either in the same plot or in adjoining plots.

    • You’re exactly right, Miriam! Just like you need to look at both sides of a document, you need to look at all sides of a tombstone!

      • Thanks for these tips Amy. I also wanted to add that sometimes there is also information regarding the Monumental mason’s name, and there may be records from the Monumental mason’s business which have been made available for genealogical research, which give details of the name and address of who commissioned the monument etc.

          • Sometimes the name of the stonemason is on the stone itself (usually listed near the bottom). Also check in county histories and city/county directories to see if any are listed.

          • Often have to dig down in ground around the headstone as it has often sunk into the ground with time passing and normal debris/leaves/dirt has also built up. I have found the stonemason “signature” there many times and place the stone was made. And also can be some more comments.

      • I would add check the base. It’s rare, but I have seen enough stones with the front, sides, and back with a number of names and they added names along the base, either engraved or with miniature name plates. In many cemeteries, the person only photographed the front and ignored the other sides. In my great-great grandmother’s case, they only photographed the front of the obelisk and missed her side.

        I use the BillionGraves app to take photos and download the photos from my phone to my computer with folders for each cemetery.

        • One of my favorite tombstones is one that has an inscription on the base: “Erected by his sisters” and gives their names.

      • If a tombstone is difficult to read or does not show up in your photo – Try taking the photo in “black and White” mode. Then reverse the image to “negative”. More detail usually emerges.

      • Early in begining geneaology on my husband’s line, he was so excited about finding a ancestor (in another state); he only took a picture of side that stated the last name. That ws about twenty years ago. Of course, we know better now. This fall we will once again visit the area. Amy, thank you so much for your tips and shortcuts.

    • Thanks! We don’t often think of tombstones as “documents,” but that’s really what they are. They just aren’t on paper 🙂

      • I would also suggest that if the inscription is hard to read, that you write it on a piece of paper & take a picture of it. Sorta like a dream – if you don’t capture it at the time, you are bound to forget it.

  3. Excellent tips for everyone Amy. Not unlike going to a library. I use a camera to photograph all book pages. The first thing I do is take a photo of the title page, then the publisher page, then pages in the book. Same reasoning for the cemetery. This method in cemeteries, libraries and courthouses has saved me much grief over the years.

  4. I take the portable GPS out of my car and take a photograph of the GPS coordinates with the headstone. Many cell phones and cameras also have GPS coordinates that you can turn and or off. When turned on the GPS information is in the photo properties.

    • I used to do that when I had a handheld GPS device. And although many of my cemetery photos now are on my phone, I still think it’s a good idea to get the wide shot for context. I don’t need to remember to turn geotagging back on (I leave it off for a number of reasons) and I don’t have to worry about whether or not I have cell service, which is necessary to get the GPS coordinates.

      • Amy I agree with all the tips you gave and I use all of them. They are especially important when visiting cemeteries in other states/countries where a person probably will never get the opportunity to return. Recording or capturing the GPS is another tip and many genealogy software programs have fields to enter the GPS coordinates. Situations where capturing GPS is important and even critical, is when the 1) graves / headstones are not in cemeteries but on private property where people were buried on the old homestead or unclaimed land which nature has taken back and is overgrown making the graves hard to find. I experienced this in several places in Arkansas. 2) In rural areas where even finding the cemeteries is difficult because people have moved away and only a few people even know where the cemetery is located which I experienced in Kansas and Oklahoma. 3) GPS is also helpful if the headstones are vandalized or removed.

          • I have ancestors buried on what is now the Oak Ridge National Laboratory site, which you need permission and an escort to go on. But one thing they have done – because there are several small cemeteries there – is to photograph all the headstones and put them on a CD. Very helpful.

  5. An addition to #4…If the stones in the family plot are similar it may help to sketch out the names of the plot, especially if there are plots with unfamiliar names. You can do it on a notepad or on a dry erase board and take a photo. Where they are in the plot (who they are next to) may help you figure out how they are related.
    I keep a dry erase board in the car to write down info for stones that may not be legible in photos then take a photo of the board right after the photo of the stone.

  6. I use BillionGraves.com now whenever I’m photographing grave markers as well as keeping my own photos. That way they are online and if I need to find the grave again the site provides a map and the location of the grave I’m looking for. It just makes it simple for me and I can add all the photos Amy recommends to the site too.

    All good advice, Thanks!!!

    • I have found Billion Graves give me the wrong location and wrong name for cemetery. It also combined 3 cemeteries that are side by side into 1 and changed the location. I’ve contacted them several times but no response.

      • All these things are easily fixable in BillionGraves by users, Donna.

        I’m not sure why you wouldn’t hear back from them as I’ve found them quite responsive.

        Let me know the cemetery name and I’ll have a look.
        (Disclaimer: I don’t work for them or have any affiliation with them. Just a user.)

        • I have a problem with Billionsof Graves because they usually don’t have close memorial numbers that BoG assigns – I feel like the person taking the pictures probably entered them into the FaG database within a close timeframe – but almost never able to locate next to graves unless cited by photographer. One reason I like GenWeb? – they list names alphabetically and if avail then plot number too.

  7. I have found using plain white chalk to outline headstone writings before taking a picture helps it read better. The chalk doesn’t damage anything and can be washed away with water, your or the rain from mother nature.
    Love your tips. Thank you

  8. I try to take photos of stones head on. If it’s a vertical stone, I squat so I’m not looking down at an angle. If the stone is flat on the ground I hold the camera over the stone. It’s so much easier to read if you shoot straight.

  9. On my iPhone, I use the app for Google maps (satellite view) to show my current location, then take a screen shot. The blue dot shows where the grave is located in relationship to landmarks within the whole cemetery.

  10. That’s what I usually do… did take a bit to think to take cemetery sign photo. I also like to go to the office if possible and get the record of everyone buried in the particular family plot. That can be helpful even without photos. Would list the dates a death and show everyone, even if the grave marker may be missing. Then I would go to the library and find the matching obit to help fill in the blanks and give me where to look next. I lucked out and many of the family is buried in one particular cemetery.

    • A visit to the office can prove interesting to verify the correct info as errors can be found in their records too…….
      These errors are impossible to fix unless one is willing to take the time, money and hassle to do it legally.

    • It’s lovely when you find a helpful cemetery office or funeral home. I talked to the office staff of the huge cemetery where my grandmother and her sister were buried. I’d been unable to find the graves of the girls’ parents, and I hoped the office had a record of burying the parents. The office staff didn’t find an entry for the parents, but they pulled Aunt Daisy’s file and found that the girls had ordered the marker for their parents’ grave from this cemetery and had the stone delivered to an old Methodist campground cemetery in a neighboring county.

  11. Great ideas. One I would make is a little different. Consider the time of day you are taking your pictures. I am so tired of looking at pictures taken with the sun Behind the stone. Can’t read a thing. I’ve done nearly 16,000 pictures for Find A Grave and nearly 2,000 for Billion Graves. I always crop, straighten, and lighten pictures I take.
    I especially like the mention of taking a picture of a stone in it’s context. I usually do a photo of the general surroundings as well as a picture if there is a particular marker in the background such as a bell tower, fountain, tall monument, building, etc. If listing graves from a large cemetery it gives people a marker to determine where the grave is located in a cemetery.

    • Lighting can make such a huge difference! On behalf of those who view your photos on Find A Grave and/or Billion Graves, thank you for noticing that 🙂

    • Great observation concerning the angle of the sun….many headstone photos obscure the pertinent information…frustrating..

    • You are right. Unfortunately one of the cemeteries where I have had this problem twice falls just at the wrong time in the afternoon when ‘passing through’ on trips. Hope some day to make a trip at a different time, but now have seen some tips to try to enhance the pictures I do have. Sometimes ‘time’ is not on our side.

  12. I would suggest another photo, or include in the wide shot. If the cemetery has “street names’ take a pic of the street signs as well. This is helpful for me since my relatives do not have headstones (yet), I know the area where they are buried. (That was with the help of the cemetery workers).

  13. I have a g grandfather who when he was older, went and made sure his family members had memorial stones if they did not have any. His mother died at his age of 16 in Monroe Co, KY or Clay Co, TN, I do not know exactly where. So far she has never showed up on Findagrave. I keep hoping. I had the thought that if he did this for family members in Oklahoma and Texas, surely he would have known where his mother was buried and had one made for her? Most of the tombstones were alike, is there anyway I could find a record of the tombstones he purchased anywhere? It was just a thought that I might be able to find my gg grandmother’s final resting place this way. I would appreciate thoughts, ideas.

    • It is possible that his family left their home state and went west, as so many people did …. Also, since she was only 16 years old when she died makes this scenario even more likely… A statewide findagrave search on any possible state they could have lived in or passed through could help in locating her burial site. If you post a name, DOB, etc., I will help….

    • If you have an uncommon last name you can in Findagrave input only the last name without other information before findagrave gets too many hits. As someone stated before you can also input only the state. When looking for someone you pretty much have to have the exact listing of the name in findagrave. Try clicking the maiden name box and not clicking on it.

  14. The last couple comments were the ones I mainly had thought of, getting pictures of street signs, or landmarks. Sometimes I photograph from where I’m standing at the grave, something outside the cemetery, a building, tree, etc. that helps me find the area of the stone more easily when it is a large cemetery. I also, if it is a cemetery I visit often, like to take photographs at different times of day, if they are illegible or hard to read. It’s amazing what you can do with a computer and lighting is different at different times of year as well, so a summer and winter picture can be manipulated for different sorts of contrast in a photo-editing program to see what those illegible things say.

    • It’s amazing what fiddling with the image in PhotoShop or other photo editing programs can do. It’s “saved the day” on many photos I’ve taken in less-than-ideal light.

  15. I have problems with my legs and I have to do things in a very direct way as to be able to get back to every headstone rather quickly so as not to use to many spoons a day. I always take photos by row and starting at an outer edge. That way I can give each headstone a number. So if rows run say North to South I start on the East or West end of the cemetery and that way I know that photo #1 is in row one on the east side and so on. Just keeps it simple for me. Love your 5 suggestions !!!

    • That’s an excellent way to cover a large section (or even an entire cemetery)! I do something similar when I’m canvassing like that. Before the start of a new row, I take a quick photo of the whole row to serve as a road map later.

  16. Great tips, this is what I have taught myself to do over time as well. My paternal grandparents are in a huge cemetery with an unusual layout, before I became interested in genealogy and photographed their plot in relation to the rest of the cemetery we would have to search every time.

  17. Good advice. I kept getting requests to take photos are our local cemetery for people on Find A Grave. I finally decided to take photos of the entire cemetery. After two years of talking to the Sexton at the cemetery I was finally given access to the cemetery office records. From those records I developed a list of each section, row and plot. Several interesting things popped up. First of all I found many headstones that the cemetery office had no record of. Secondly, I have located hundreds of people with no headstone at all. I indicate on the find a grave memorial if there is no headstone and in several cases family members, many far away, have stepped forward and provided a headstone for their loved ones. My ultimate goal is to provide headstones for everyone and I’m working on those fund raisers. I’m also working off the county records and have found many death certificates of people buried at our cemetery and again the cemetery office has no record of these individuals. My goal is to make sure everyone is properly identified even if their final resting place will never be known because the records of the location have been lost. So, even though I thinks it’s amazing to take hundreds if not thousands of pictures, I also think it’s a good idea to focus on one cemetery and help to get it properly documented. Everything I do is free and available free to everyone. I just love doing this.

    • Thank you, Melinda. You are making history as well as opening doors for future generations interested in their family stories. The link will now be there because of you.

    • Hello,
      I am planning on visiting a Cemetery to take pictures of my Grand Uncles grave, if you call the Cemetery that you are planning to visit, can you request to look at the Cemetery Office Records? what kind of info would these records have?
      Thanks
      Linda

      • You can always request to look at the records! They may not let you, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. In my experience, most cemeteries are willing to let you look, especially if you have a specific request (a person’s name and a general date of death) as opposed to “I want all of the Smiths buried here.” Good luck!

    • Thoughtful and wonderful for you to do that! I would not have found my grandmother’s grave except for a CD that was at the County Historian’s office rather than the church or office.

    • My first step before visiting cemeteries is to look for a family history group in the area to see if they have the burial records of that cemetery, have photographed or transcribed the cemetery.
      Our family history group did that for the local cemetery in 1982 and continue to update the burials. Some of the graves are now unreadable or have been vandalised, so the groups data is vital for research. We have also identified discrepancies between the funeral director’s burial records, the cemetery trust records and the tombstones. One of our members also drew up a map of the cemetery sections which is most useful when finding graves. When I visit distant cemeteries, I take photos of all graves in that cemetery for the family names I am researching and sort them out when I get home. Sometimes they are not related but a few extra photos is better than missing a grave.

      • “A few extra photos is better than missing a grave” — so true! Kudos to you and your family history group for the work you’re doing!

    • Bless you for doing that. I have several in the family with no headstones. I found them on a map in the town office since some cemeteries did not have their own office. Also frustrating are photos I took in the older days and didn’t turn out. Now I am happy to find these on Findagrave or Billionsofgraves. What great work those volunteers do.

  18. Great ideas, but I would add one more. The last photo should be an overview of the entire cemetery, then its on to the next cemetery.

  19. One warning for older cemeteries-Beware of gopher trails! They love to ho neycomb the ground leaving spongy tracks in which you can twist an ankle if you don’t notice them.

  20. When taking photo’s of Headstones, I do all of the suggested, as well as take a photo of the affiliated church if there is one along side the cemetery. If I find a flag holder displaced, or on the ground, I also straighten, or replace, said marker where it originally was. I also do the same for urns, flowers, etc., that may have been blown over by wind, etc. I try to do what I hope someone else would do for my ancestors.

  21. This past June, my daughter and I visited a cemetery I had been to about 10 years ago. A list of who is buried there is available online but no plot plan. This is a very old cemetery, my ggg grandmother was buried there in 1852 right next to her son who died in 1846. My ggg grandfather died in “1805” – cannot find an exact date nor a place of burial. His youngest child was born in July 1805 so that’s a starting point. We found his son’s very large tombstone flat on the ground and cracked in half with weeds growing through the crack and around the sides. I believe my gg grandmother is on the other side of him, also toppled on the ground but face down. These tombstones are too heavy to lift. The cemetery in general is in a poor state of repair and I have written letters to the state cemetery director as well as a town supervisor with no reply. There are tree limbs down, poison ivy here and there and the grass only seems to be mowed between the first row of graves and the street. We found stacks of headstones in piles here and there. I’m wondering if there is any way to get a tombstone company that would tackle repair of my gg grandfather’s tombstone as well as righting his wife’s tombstone which will need a lot of cleaning after many years face down on the ground.

    • I would try contacting a scout troop in the area. Many troops are looking for service projects. Also, if your ancestor was a veteran, contact a local veterans group to see if they would be interested in helping to restore his tombstone.

      • One of our local scouts arranged for all the road and path signs to be repaced with beautiful granite posts and updated signs. I believe this was his Eagle scout project. I am attempting to photograph every stone. I haven’t had any response to my request for information from the cemetery commissioner though.

  22. I love all the tips, Thanks. Why do people plant trees and shrubs next to the stones??? My ggggrandparents were buried in a cemetery that was covered with stones broken by tree roots, some uprooted, and buried under other roots.
    A committee had started work to restore the cemetery but many of the stones were too badly damaged to save.
    Of all the cemeteries I have visited, Willow Mount Cemetery,(Willowmount) in Shelbyville, Bedford County, TN was the cleanest and every stone easy to photograph, with no obstructions..

    • I think they plant them with the same thoughts as when they plant trees and shrubs too close to a house: They forget that they grow!

      • My mother-in-law and other people I knew had their grave paid for in advance so they could select one by a tree. Several years later my son saw the tree had roots in the grave and in danger of destroying the pillow style headstone. He had to get the cemetery company to remove the tree. So not a good idea to ask for your grave to beside a tree. Not a good idea to think only of where you will be buried when you die. You need to think ahead to possible destruction of the grave and headstone by trees. I have mine paid for and it is in a good clear spot. Trees are along the perimeter of the cemetery.

  23. I’m a Find-a-Grave member. When I run across a family plot with multiple spouses, I like to photograph the entire family plot including all markers. Then, depending on the order of the burials I look to see how the spouses are lined-up. For example, if a husband has more than one wife and one is buried on either side of the husband, in addition to the family plot, I photograph the husband with the first wife and then the husband with the second wife. Of course I take pictures of all of the stones. One full photo, and one close-up. When posting them, I post the family plot photo, then each pair of husband/wife groups, then their individual full view and closeup shots. Of course the same goes for all children and I try to link them all as best I can. If the husband had two wives and they are both buried to the right or left of him, I photograph all three, then the husband and wife that are immediately adjacent to each other. When I post photo for the husband and second wife, I post the photo of all three. When I post the photo of the husband and first wife (assuming she was buried first), I post the photo of just the two of them. It makes the viewing experience more logical.

  24. I came to the cemetery where my grandparents, g-grandparents, g-aunt, and now, father and sister are buried (and where my wife and I have purchased plots). I went with a Google Earth printout, and while I was there, marked the locations on the printout. I then constructed a map with the relevant stone locations circled. Also did this at another, rather large, cemetery where my wife’s family’s plots are.

    When they had the unveiling for my mother-in-law’s stone, I posted the map on the Internet to aid the attendees in finding the location amongst the vast expanse of grave markers.

  25. It is scary how often you will see remnants of chalk and crayons on markers. :< And still people out there using shaving cream, bleach, and flour. Even using foil and a soft brush to do a rubbing can damage some stones and leave marks.

    Here is a youtube video about using an off camera flash to help make some stones readable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceRWpeNgoms

    Of course, it is possible to try this with just a mirror instead of a flash too!

  26. Great blog, thnx. A couple things I’d like to add:

    [1] When ever possible, contact the cemetery office to get the burial records. I went to the Cemetery where my G-G-grandparents, many of their children & even several of the next generation are buried. The office looked up & gave me two print outs (for a small fee) listing all buried in two family plots (located adjacent) – 19 individuals in all. Most were not recorded on the stones. A few of the names are not recognized, so they give me leads for unknown relatives 4 & 5 generations back.

    [2] I like to download or print to a file the map of the cemetery – I often do a ‘bird’s eye’ to get the general location, & sometimes a close in showing just the cemetery. if it is large, I might also grab a very close shot of the section of interest. Printed out, these can be added to the photos taken at the grave to make a complete chapter on that burial plot.

  27. The only other recommendation I would make is if there is an office on the cemetery grounds, go in and look up the internment record, even if it’s a small index card, take a picture of that too.Great article and photographs thank you.

  28. Thanks for reminding us to take photos of all sides of a grave stone, or at least CHECK all sides. I’ve made a few bonehead mistakes by failing to do this and later learning that a spouse or child was memorialized on a different face of the stone. With a cell phone, taking a photo of a blank face will be free and yet give us confidence that we did check it, in case we don’t get to analyze our photos immediately.

    • Yes! taking all side -even if black- avoids panic atacks later when reviewing the photos. Also will help if later other are buried in the same grave and names added to the once blank side.

  29. By the way, I recognize that cemetery sign from driving past it as a Girl Scout as we went to roller-skating lessons near there.

  30. I know the article was about photos- but don’t forget simply asking the cemetery management for a list of family members or copies of internment cards. I’ve gotten a lot more than even the headstones shared by these.

  31. One other tip: Have somebody stand next to the burial marker and take a picture, or measure the tombstone marker with a yard stick (or place the yard stick next to it as you photograph it) so you can get an idea of the size of the stone. An ancestor had a tombstone that was very small but looked large when photographed. After a cousin sent us a photo of the tombstone, we went to the cemetery to see it. We were looking down rows and rows of tombstones expecting to see a large monument. An overview photo would have also helped in that case.

  32. These are fantastic tips! THANKS. Many a time I’ve gone to a cemetery at the wrong time of day in another state not knowing which direction the stones faced. I’ve had trouble attaining cemetery records after much effort. I’m told they don’t exist or the person who has the records never is available for copy, even with my offering to pay a fee. Congratulations on all your successes. I find Find A Grave often changes. The information and the pictures may change from one time to another: my g.g.father has a name on his CSA tombstone that once was listed at find a grave. Last I checked that was removed. You could find his name by the other family spelling. (If you see info. at FAG, capture it–it might be the only time you see it.) Also the photo of his headstone was removed. One cemetery I went a few years back had stones in pieces. One headstone was cleverly repaired: the pieces were back in order and a concrete frame surrounded the stone. The concrete frame protected the stone from further acid erosion, etc.
    THANKS AGAIN. Alicia

    • Glad you enjoyed the tips, Alicia! I agree with you about capturing info from FindAGrave — or any website — when you see it.

      • Wtih that in mind, here’s a FindAGrave for your example: http://findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=19178175 Following text in case the site is down or gone:
        “Birth: Mar. 17, 1889
        Jefferson County
        Ohio, USA
        Death: Nov. 1, 1889
        Columbus
        Franklin County
        Ohio, USA

        Family links:
        Parents:
        Dallas Sager (1845 – 1914)
        Kesiah J Mann Sager (1849 – 1893)

        Sibling:
        Walter E Sager (1879 – 1888)*
        Nellie Sager (1889 – 1889)

        *Calculated relationship

        Inscription:
        Daughter of D & K Sager
        Aged 7 months & 26 days

        Clasped are her dimpled hands
        Over her pulseless breast
        Angels have taken our darling
        Nellie has gone to rest.

        Burial:
        Havens Cemetery
        Blacklick
        Franklin County
        Ohio, USA

        Created by: Dave
        Record added: May 01, 2007
        Find A Grave Memorial# 19178175”

        Thankfully, it has notations regarding inscription as well as reference to brother- Walter and to their parents – D & K Sager (and even D = Dallas; K = Kesiah). Not sure why it’s common to list FAG entry as their own sibling.

        If you cannot find an old entry, it may be worthwhile to submit one yourself or encourage a relative in the area to be the record’s creator/contributor. (I’ve noticed that some of my relatives were initially entered by a conributor that appears to have entered many of those in the same cemetery. A local relative later helps to fill in more details.) Thanks for the post and reply!!

  33. Amy, thank you for your unexpected quick reply. I forgot one thing that might or might not be applicable. A friend of mine who has been doing genealogy many years and previously taught some fabulous classes suggest on the old black and white photos to scan them in as lavender (if I remember correctly), and for some reason things would be visible scanned in this way that you could not read in the original picture.

  34. Thank you for the information and the reasoning for the suggestions; understanding will help me assemble much better photos of loved ones stones.

  35. Thank you for all the Tips. Earlier this month I went and took photos of the graves of my GGG Grandfather for his 220th Birthday and next to him are (his Parents in-law) my GGGG Grandparents, I did take the Cemetery name and I even went up a couple of floors of a car park over the road and took an over all view of the cemetery but of the Headstones I only took the front, close and away, I didn’t think to take the sides and back…so it looks like I will be doing another trip there to take more photos. By the way I am in Australia and these are my Convict Ancestors from the early 1800’s!!

  36. Pingback: Post you should read BEFORE you start a search at a cemetery…… – Floralmemorials

  37. Only just found this through Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society. Most gravestone in UK are assigned a number. There is a website called UK Cemetery & Graveyard Plans Index which is an ongoing project. I have used this site (I have nothing to do with its operation).

  38. I love all the ideas. I utilize most of them already! Will add the others to my arsenal. I just want to add that if your relative is buried in a National (veteran) Cemetery, his wife is probably buried with him, in the same grave!! Her information will be in the back if a tombstone!! I didn’t know this until we buried my Mother-in-law and they buried her in too of him. They may also have military records. If the gates are open, there will be someone on duty.

  39. Be sure and check with the cemetery office for a set of their rules. If there is not an office try to find out who is in charge of the cemetery. I work in a large historic cemetery and we do have rules about the use of anything on the headstones and about any sort of digging.

  40. Wow, Amy, it is so wonderful to read your updated Post focusing on the 5 must take photos a person should remember to take while at a cemetery.

    And, all of the comments that follow the post are an added treat to read!

    If I find myself visiting a cemetery more than once in a year or even once annually, I often do side-by-side comparison photos of the different visits to look for changes in the upkeep of the landscape and the condition of the gravestones and gravesites.

    We never know when our photograph of a gravestone will be the last one taken of it in the condition we see it the day of our visit because of how vulnerable and fragile they are. So, we try to make it our best in all ways. Taking the same type and angle of the photographs for each visit, if possible, helps to spot the changes.

    Sadly, cemetery vandalism at all cemeteries is on the rise, and our photographs are so crucial. Keep up your great work, Amy! I enjoy reading all of your blog posts and share them! Thank you for sharing!

  41. An extra picture that I took when I went to a cemetery that I visited in our small town was of the physical bulletin board by one of the cemetery gates. It had a simple printed layout of the markers and headstones for the cemetery. I have to admit, I wish I had seen it before I found the headstones I was searching for. It would have made searching much easier, but then I wouldn’t have had as much fun hunting.

    • Not just writing, but symbols. Also, it acts as a part of a checklist of things to look at. Certainly if you feel comfortable not taking those photos if there’s nothing there, no real need to take them.

      • Thanks – it certainly makes sense to check each side, and I have not been doing that. I’ve mostly been doing 18th century slate and essentially there are no sides.

  42. I don’t know if anyone posted this. You should take a picture of the map of the cemetery and note were the grave is located.

  43. Thanks for these reminders. Sometimes the geo-location on a phone isn’t as helpful as it should be. I took some photos of an ancestor’s plot of grass (sadly, no headstone) & when I came home to map it on Google Earth the lat/long was in another suburb entirely!

  44. Excellent tips! I didn’t read all the comments so they might have mentioned it, but I can offer two other sets of pictures suggestions. One would be a nearby street intersection sign – especially for a smaller cemetery, so you can get a general idea of where to find it. A second would be to scan the cemetery for similar flowers. Someone may have placed flowers on the graves of all their relatives. If you photograph all those tombstones, you may be able to find how they are all related.

  45. Another reason to take a long shot of the surroundings is to help other researchers find the stone if they choose to go and see it. I have found stones in cemeteries based on backgrounds in the photos on Find A Grave.

  46. I’ve been photographing cemeteries and graveyards for 16 years, and I completely agree with everything in this article. I’ve been telling people these rules for years. Nothing drives me more crazy than seeing an entry on a website that is just the close-up of the information, and no photo of the entire marker. If you were a relative that lived a thousand miles away and couldn’t get to the cemetery to see grandma’s grave, wouldn’t you like to see the entire stone and the “neighborhood” she’s in?

  47. When we were searching for ancestors we found if you had a way to wet the tomb stone it made it easier to read

  48. In photographing tombstones in cemetery where my great-grandparents are buried, I found one that said “Emma R…, born 1882, died 1883” This was a baby sister of my grandmother’s I had never known existed. She was born and died between census years. Grandma never mentioned having a baby sister (She would have been a toddler when the baby was born and died) Also, anyone searching for my grandmother using her adult name (Ethel) will never find her. She was born and christened “Effie Mae” but changed her name herself to “Ethel Mae” when she was about 12 years old, refusing to answer to “Effie” any longer. She was stubborn but successful. All of her information after age 12 give her name as “Ethel” Since I already knew this about her, I was able to find her birth record. A later family researcher, however, would not necessarily know this one fact.

  49. As someone earlier mentioned Family History Societies as recorders of cemetery information, be sure to look for libraries in the same city, county & surrounding counties. Local genealogical groups in 2 counties where I have worked as a librarian have undertaken projects with local cemeteries – both public & family. The information on the cemetery location, layout, stone inscriptions, etc. are some of the information found and recorded. Occasionally mistakes can be made, but these volunteers are dedicated to the work they do. Copies of the information may be simply typed lists in small libraries up to published materials cataloged in local libraries. Some may be digitized.
    A simple list was the case in one of my ancestor’s small libraries in the city. [Pictures: After we passed it once & missed it, we went back & took a picture as we pulled back the foliage covering the road sign to the cemetery] While the large libraries may have more information, it is not always as relevant to small cemeteries in areas that were very rural at the time of the older burials.
    If you would like an example look at the library catalog for First Regional Library system in Desoto County, MS. There are several Tate County books by a wonderful, local genealogist, L.F. Fox. Tate County was once part of Desoto County. Several have been digitized, but I am not sure if that is available to non-library card holders/residents. But both counties have active genealogical societies, that more than likely have the information also. While many libraries do not loan genealogy materials, both libraries & local societies may be able to search materials for specific information & provide photocopies.
    My search started with an interested aunt on my maternal side & a library worker in one of my libraries who went to a state convention, not genealogy, & came back with ‘cousins’ for me from my biological father’s side. Amazing how we all got started isn’t it.

    • Also check with the local genealogy society. They may have recorded cemetery listing and even done further research into who was buried there. Our local society has recorded every cemetery in the vicinity and has an index. Many times they had to find ways to read inscriptions if not completely legible and all while maintaining the integrity of the headstones.

  50. Meant to say how the 5 Tips were ones I will save, lots of comments gave me ideas to help with reading the ‘bad’ photographs. Thanks to Amy & all for sharing!

  51. Thank you for the post ! I can add that when you visit for example Sweden,Germany or other countries where old head and grave stone are taken away after for example 25 or 50 years (if the relatives do not pay) it can be imortant to take a picture since the stone may not be there when you visit again.

    • Same thing in the Netherlands. I was heart broken when I went to Koewacht looking for a certain relatives grave. It was pictures of that relative that piqued my interest in genealogy…..and the grave was long gone. Luckly, I had seen the picture of her grave in my grandmother’s photo albums.

      • I made the mistake of not recording all the tombstones in a cemetery in Austria. The next time I was over there, the cemetery had dug up all the graves and planted grass. I could not find out where they put them or if they had a record of them. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t understand everything they were saying. I asked for them to write it down so I could have one of my cousins who lived there translate what they were saying.
        Also there they do the same thing of “burying over” so that if the families are no longer around or chooses not to pay, another person will be buried higher up in the grave – hence “burying over” – doesn’t mean burying the same person over again. In some large centers, like Quebec City and Montreal, land becomes scarce and cemeteries are dug up and put in a common grave with just the word bones or I guess could translate to boneyard. The cemetery office had some of the names with death date and year of birth but not the full information. Also one cemetery had been hit by an earthquake with headstones and coffins all over the place and mixed up. So no way to find what body belonged to what headstone and vice versa with sometimes headstone in pieces and couldn’t be read. So they took all the bones from the coffins and created a catacombs where only the famous or revered were given basic listings. The rest became just bones behind a cement wall. Again bones or boneyard was all that was on the wall. No names, dates or inscriptions. Very sad! No listing in the cemetery office or the city hall This all happened many years before I made it there and nothing to see!

  52. Great tips. I have not been around to be able to take pics, but when I come across a photo from a relative or from sites like find a grave, it’s frustrating when they take a pic of the tombstone that there are flowers or grass blocking words or dates or dried grass from mowing. It’s also aggravating when the picture taker’s shadow is across the stone and makes it hard to read.

  53. Just found your blog. Thank you so much! I’m planning my first trip to a cemetery and my first visit with family I don’t know in real life! I’m only there two days, so I’m trying to make a plan that helps me make the best of it, and this is a great start! (I’m a novice genealogist)

  54. Oh, and I meant to second your suggestion for the neighboring stones. I was just looking at some photos in Ancestry, and the neighboring stones on someone else’s photo were also relatives of mine that I knew!

  55. I don’t know if you have it in the US but in some cemeteries in England there is a number on the back of the headstone which is the plot number to help find them again.

    • In the US, that’s more common in veterans cemeteries. It isn’t very common at all other than that.

  56. sometimes the stones are similar in size and color, I have also laid a piece of colored paper next to the one I want to remember so it is faster for me to spot it.

  57. Very useful tips Amy! Thanks for sharing. Also loved the comments you received. Helped with the dos and don’ts. When I go to the hometown where I was born and anyone wants to find me, my family always say check the cemetery to which the person asks – is she dead? And my family say, no she is just visiting the dead! I have visited and recorded cemeteries in many places in North America and Europe. Always careful about taking photos while I can. Already used to using most of these tips but a couple of new ones you mentioned and that others listed in their comments. Trying to get my blog going and will send you my link, if you like!

  58. Very good information. I agree 100% about taking the first photo of the Cemetery name. I learnt the hard way. Have been doing it now for over 40 years.

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