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The Importance of Cemeteries

By Brad Manzenberger

When I tell people that I restore historic cemeteries I get one of two response; Wow! That’s cool! or Wow! Cemeteries creep me out! I have always loved cemeteries and as long as none of the “residents” get up and join me they won’t creep me out.

My love for graveyards increased as I got into genealogy. From that genealogy my passion for restoring historic pioneer cemeteries grew.

So why are cemeteries important? Are they only for burial of remains and for visitation by loved ones? Of course not. They are so much more.

Sometimes only record that person lived

There have been a few times I have found unknown ancestors, particularly distant aunts, uncles and cousins when visiting a cemetery. I have also found the names of various great Grandmothers on their headstone when I hadn’t found them in records. I use the Census extensively in my genealogy research, but since it is only done every ten years you won’t find children who were born and died between Census enumerations. But you will often find them buried next to their parents or other family members.

Locate birth/death dates

Sometime we don’t have birth or death dates available in records. We can only guess an approximate date when using the Census. But when visiting the cemetery we often find at least a death date and an age at time of death. But be careful, as with any genealogical sources, verify the information through other means when you can. Stone carvers made mistakes from time to time that weren’t always caught or changed.

Discover relationships

I have, on many occasions, found, or confirmed the names of siblings of my direct ancestors by finding their graves next to those of my Great Grandparents.

Tangible connection to ancestors

Visiting my ancestor’s graves has allowed me a physical connection to them. There is a headstone with their name and other information on it. I can touch it. I never met them, but I can touch what, in most cases, is the only thing that remains from their entire existence.

History of local community

You can sometimes learn some of the history of the local community in an old pioneer cemetery. As I walk through the oldest sections of my local city cemetery I see names on headstones that I also see on street signs. Ever see a whole bunch of death dates within a few months of each other, often many children? That could indicate a plague, natural disaster or other tragedy. All of this can help give you an idea of what your ancestors experienced in their community.


Like art? A cemetery is full of it. Some basic and simple, others intricately detailed.
Brad Manzenberger is the owner of Stone Revival Cemetery Restoration, Inc of Franklin, IN. He has been a professional genealogist for the past five years in conjunction with his cemetery restoration work. He did personal genealogy for several years prior to that. Visit his site at

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Comment by Foxie on October 19, 2009 at 6:53pm
What a wonderful blog. could you put it on my IL Saving graves ning site blogs I seem to be the only one who adds blogs about cemeteries on there. why I have no idea people join but then you hear nothing and I had forgotten about this site I joined I'm getting myself so wide spread out. Wish had more like you in Illinois. I need help with one close to home but we've just had so much rain it's been hard.
But great fantastic Article above. hate calling it a blog sounds so I don't know but you get my drift. I'm old school on a lot of things.
thanks and enjoyed reading your thoughts very much.
one of my web spaces in the www.
Comment by louise duncalf on August 17, 2009 at 6:45pm
i enjoyed this article. i feel the same way about visiting cemeteries. i think of it as history. my mother went to a cemetery tour once where it had the people doing the tour dressed as people of that time period. i believe there werent any famous people but they had unique grave stones. i live near several cities that are national cemeteries and also live near colma,california. its a town that has its motto where they say "its great to be alive in colma. cemeteries out number living people there. name it they have a cemetery for every nationality or religion there. san francisco had to move there graves to there a long time ago. several famous people buried there. last weekend they had a tour of one of the cemeteries that explained names of streets,etc for san francisco.




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