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.
I’ve spent the better part of a decade searching for the estranged brother of a family member. Due to various circumstances, the only information I had came from the one brother I knew. He told me when his brother was born and his name. I wanted to locate the estranged brother to see if he could answer some questions about his parents, who died when the brothers were fairly young. Since the estrangement didn’t happen until they were adults, I assumed the brother knew his brother’s name and birth year and focused my search on these pieces of information.
Thanks to new social security records available via ancestry.com, I finally found the estranged brother. Turns out the birth year was quite off and the name was close, but the middle name was wrong. I had been searching based on the wrong information.
Oddly enough, both brothers had the same middle name. They were the only children of this particular marriage and the middle name was not a family name as far as I can tell. I’ve never come across siblings that both have Matthew or Steven as a middle name. Very odd, but intriguing.
Unfortunately, the estranged brother died in 2004, not long after I began looking for him. I don’t believe he ever married or had children, so this particular search has likely ended. The brother I knew died a few years ago, so there’s no longer anyone to bounce ideas off.
Research can feel so overwhelming sometimes, whether the person has a common name or not. I always tried different combinations, different ranges of birth years, etc. but always came up empty handed until I was able to pair the mother’s maiden name with the death information. I only wish I had been able to do this when these brothers were still alive.