Preparing for a Cemetery Visit, by
1) Get the death certificate if possible and other documents you might
want to refer to so that you are prepared.
2) Check the databases such as JOWBR, FindAGave, etc. to make sure at
least some of the information is not already online. Check with the
individual cemetery because some of them have posted databases for
their internments. Also check not only the individual name you need
but family names because there may be others in the same cemetery/same
plot. Also when you are there take time to walk around the area
because you might be surprised to find other relatives. Also when you
are at the plot see if the Society erected gates because they often
have the names of the officers of the Society. Also check both sides
of the stone if it is a standing one because sometimes they put Hebrew
on one side and English on the other.
3) If it is an older cemetery/grave the stone might be only in Hebrew.
Translate the date of death into the Hebrew calendar as well as the
Hebrew characters. If the stone is not going to be in English it is
very likely the date will not be in Arabic numerals either. Also
remember that they could be using a Hebrew name which is very different
from the every day name you are expecting. So the date may be critical.
3) Call the office and try to work with them in advance. Tell them
your are trying to find family graves and ask what help they can offer.
You might want to asking about making an appointment for the visit for
the staff/groundskeeper will be available to help. Also ask them if
they can look in advance and see if they have the plot map for that
area. Most times the office will be cooperative with you. They might
also know if the burial society (if there was one) is still active and
have a contact for the people who manage it. Those people might have
information or a map.
3) When you get to the office ask for the map and do things like count
the rows, in the from the paths, etc. to try and get a location. Ask
if the office will photocopy the map or let you take a digital picture.
Try and takes notes of names at the end of rows, etc. so you can
relate the map to the plot when you get there. Some but not all
plots have distinct patterns of burial. Some buried women and men in
separate sections. Some buried in date order and in that case they
might work from the back of the plot towards the front and from the
right side to the left. Some permitted family groupings within the
society. So spend some time getting a feel for the patterns.
Generally cemetery offices will not have a lot of information and are
reluctant to share too much because of concerns over privacy. They
generally only keep basic information like the burial date and the next
of kin/who is responsible for the grave. They might know the name of
the firm that did the stone or the funeral home. Older cemeteries
often kept burial books which were arranged by plot and then by date.
They can be an alternate reference if you have a problem with finding
the grave and if the cemetery will let you look at the book might be an
easy way to look for family members in the same plot. The books
generally only have the name, the date and the location of the grave.
4) If the cemetery office can not help or provide someone to go out to
the plot with you look around and see if the men who say prayers are at
the cemetery. In New York we can often find these men there to help
the families say prayers. For a small gratuity you might be able to
enlist their help to go out the plot and help by reading the Hebrew
stones. Or in some cases there might be a Jewish center nearby or you
might even be able to find a lister to meet you at the cemetery and
help with the
5) While you are there why not photograph the whole society plot and
then you can donate the information to JOWBR as well. Digital cameras
and smart phone cameras make it easy. If you are having problems
reading the stones take close ups of the writing. You may even need to
do a montage to capture parts of it and then piece it together later.
If it is overgrown sometimes you can even get a close up behind the
bush or whatever to capture details and then piece back together the
stone in your photos. This technique also works nicely on faded stones
that are difficult to read (see below).
6) Give yourself enough time. The office may be busy. The cemetery
may be large. It may take several efforts/visits to the office during
the trip to find the grave so don't go just before closing time and you
do not want to be watching you watch because you have another
appointment. Don't be afraid to go back to the office and say you can
not find it. Most of them will be cooperative to help you when you are
7) You may want to take some "supplies." By that I mean a soft paint
brush or such to brush away dirt or grime on the stones. Maybe some
garden gloves. Maybe even a small hand trimmer because the stone might
be grown over. Also of course paper, pencil, pen, something to lean on
to take notes. Don't go in your best clothes because you might have to
be climbing over or around overgrowth or whatever.
[Editorial suggestion: Wear long pants and sleeves]
In oldest cemeteries you may have to deal with a stone that has sunken or is
partially covered by soil. (I am not going to take a stance on things
like charcoal, paper, etc. I have had a lot of luck taking high
resolution digital images and then manipulating them on the computer to
increase contrast, etc. to create a digital "rubbing" of the stone to
pull out hard to read text. If you are planning on photographing a lot
plot someone long ago suggested taking golf tees and using them to mark
the stones are you photograph them. If the plot is not symmetrical it
might be a big help to know what you have done. I guess you need to
collect them at the end and also take some time to review the pictures
on your camera before you leave or even after every few shots. Nothing
worse than to get home and find the camera was not working, you had sun
glare, the pictured blurred, etc. The extra time on site can save a
lot of heart ache later.