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Preparing for a Cemetery Visit
Preparing for a Cemetery Visit, by
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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 Hebrew. 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 there. 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.
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