Earlier this year, my husband and I visited a cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia so I could fulfill some findagrave.com photo requests. It was a beautiful, mid-sized cemetery that is still in active use. The place was filled with more azaleas than I’ve ever seen in one place—it was absolutely beautiful.
As we left, we drove past the entrance to another NE Philly cemetery called Greenwood. I didn’t know much about it, so I spent some time researching and then planned a visit with a friend to check it out.
Greenwood, also known as Knights of Pythias, opened in 1869. In more recent years, the cemetery became quite overgrown—a plight many of Philadelphia’s historic cemeteries have faced. Despite this, burials were still happening and the cemetery was bought in the early 2000s by a company wishing to build a crematorium on the grounds. A Friends group of concerned citizens was formed around this time.
Fast forwarding to 2008, a majority share of the cemetery was bought by a holding company of the hospital which is situated past the back end of the property. This entity has worked to restore the cemetery—removing trash and debris, righting fallen headstones, refinishing metal markers, etc. However, they also relocated well over 2,000 burials from the back of the cemetery to the front in a mass grave. There is now a large memorial featuring granite slabs carved with the names of those moved.
Most of the names are preserved, but most of the original headstones are gone. There are some lined up behind the memorial and still others left lined up in the overgrowth at the back of the cemetery. For genealogists and others seeking information on their ancestors, the lack of stones is a detriment—gone are full birth dates, place of birth or death, and familial connections. I understand what a burden it can be to try and care for a cemetery that has been neglected, but I still fill the sting for those with family buried here.
There are still many stones covered with bamboo, small trees, and vines. Perhaps a second visit in winter is in order.
Thanks to Reclaim the Records, there’s now any easy—and free—series of indexes to NYC marriage records available! There’s a searchable index for 1950-1996 records, as well as downloads of the raw data to use online.
There’s also a variety of older records available for download. Once you find the record you’re seeking, the website includes details on how to order a copy from the archives.
I was excited to be interviewed for this Philadelphia Inquirer article about Findagrave.com, along with a few other members of the Philadelphia Area Findagrave Meetup Group. If you are a findagrave member local to Philadelphia, come join us!
I’ve talked before about how to research burials at Fernwood Cemetery in Lansdowne, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. One of the things I always stress to people researching burials there is to take the time to contact the cemetery office—via phone or mail—to inquire about burials and to hopefully receive valuable genealogical information.
The office staff is very helpful and will give you the location of a burial within the cemetery (section and plot) and will provide a cemetery and section map via mail. If you ask nicely, they will likely also send you a photocopy of the burial ledger which indicates:
- The first and last name of each individual buried in the plot, with middle initial if known
- Age at death
- Burial date
- Location of the grave within the plot
- Name of the lot owner
- And sometimes, extra details such as whether there is a stone, size or shape of the lot, etc.
The image above is a cropped version of one of these burial ledger sheets. You can often discover new ancestors—or at least new mysteries to research—by obtaining these records. Many cemeteries will provide this information, sometimes for free and sometimes for a small fee, if you’re willing to make the call or spend the spare change on a stamp.
Montrose Cemetery is a small place, tucked away behind a funeral home. It’s the kind of place you can drive by without noticing, which I did for many years before visiting the first time.
The cemetery isn’t large—just a single road down the middle with sections on either side. The sections seem to be all designated by a letter, but only B and G seem to have visible signs denoting their location. There does not seem to be a cemetery map publicly available that lists the sections.
Montrose does offer an online burial records search to locate your ancestors’ section and plot number. Once you’ve found the information, make sure the person has a findagrave memorial and request a photo.
As a photo volunteer with more than 50,000 images uploaded, giving the section adn lot number makes it possible and therefore more attractive for others to potentially take a photo for you.
West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania makes locating a plot within its expansive grounds about at easy as possible.
First, you’ll want to search the cemetery’s online records for your ancestor. The simple search only allows for first and last name, but once you view the results page you can select “view entire lot” (see an example here) to get a list of everyone in the same plot.
While the records are often missing birth or death dates—often its just names—you can often narrow down your search by seeing who else is interred in the same lot. Women are often listed with their maiden name, such as Mary Jones Hamilton, which is also helpful.
Once you’ve found your ancestor, take a look at findagrave.com to see if a memorial already exists and whether or not there is already a photo. If not, request one and make sure you put the section and lot number in the notes of your request so a volunteer can try and fulfill your request.
If you’ll be visiting the cemetery in person, download the West Laurel Hill Cemetery app from iTunes or Google Play. The app will allow you to search for a burial and pinpoint the lot within the cemetery, which is quite helpful due to both the size of the cemetery and the fact that most sections don’t seem to have the lots numbered side by side. Lot 120 might be on the extreme opposite side of a section from Lots 119 and 121. If you make sure to turn on location services for the app, you’ll be able to pinpoint not just the lot, but yourself (two different color dots). The app will get you very close to the person you’re seeking, at least within 15-20 feet as some lots are quite large. It’s also helpful to arm yourself with the last of names of others in the lot, just in case there’s a large noticeable stone with only one surname or, unfortunately, the person you’re seeking isn’t listed on a stone but others are.
I’ve seen these migration path charts floating around and decided to create one for myself. The idea is to trace where your ancestors were born, but realistically you could use this method in any number of ways.
My chart starts with myself as the largest block on the left and works backward through my father (top portion, all Pennsylvania) and my mother (bottom portion, multiple locations).
A blank spreadsheet ready to fill in is freely available as a Google doc.