The well-manicured grounds of the Henryetta, Oklahoma, cemetery stretched out for 60 acres with thousands of headstones. Somewhere among the monuments to the dead were the final resting places of several members of my mother’s family. It was my first visit to this town of 6,000 in eastern Oklahoma, and I had no idea where to find my relatives’ graves.
My visit to this cemetery and several others in the Midwest this spring honed my strategy on the best way to visit graveyards in my genealogical research. Here are some of the important cemetery dos and don’ts that I learned.
I thought I had planned ahead. I knew the names and dates of my deceased ancestors and the cemeteries where their graves were located. I had found my ancestors’ headstones online. However, what I discovered on my recent trip reinforced the obvious—not all cemeteries are alike.
I walked into the sexton’s building at a Springfield, Missouri, cemetery and gave the helpful employees the names of three ancestors. They looked up the names on their computers, gave me a map of the cemetery, and circled the locations of the headstones. They also printed copies of my ancestors’ Missouri death certificates.
It wasn’t the same in Henryetta. By reading the cemetery’s website, I knew that I had to call the city office for cemetery information. I waited until I arrived in Henryetta to call. Big mistake. I got a recording. A clerk called back, but she informed me that the cemetery records were not digitized. In fact, she would have to dig through some dusty old cemetery records to find out about my great-grandfather’s death in 1923. She took his name, saying she couldn’t be sure she would find him. I only had one day to spend in Henryetta, so I was worried. My husband, daughter, and I decided to go to cemetery anyway, hoping to find the graves.
As I stood looking over the thousands of headstones, I felt my quest was hopeless. So, standing among the headstones, I decided to revisit FindAGrave.com, hoping for a clue. It didn’t list the exact location, but there was a hint about a general location. I sought out a caretaker, who helped me find my grandmother, great-grandparents, and various great-aunts and uncles. The city clerk did call back later, but, fortunately, I had already found the headstones during my limited time there.
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