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.
This week I visited Lyndon Center Cemetery in Lyndon, Vermont. From findagrave.com, I knew there were at least several thousand burials here (likely more).
I made a quick visit to get an idea of the scope and figure out how much I might be able to photograph on subsequent visits. I brought my dog with me as the cemetery rules allow leashed dogs. I struggled to take many pictures with an excited dog in tow, but I took a few snaps that gave the general lay of the land.
Lydon Center Cemetery begins at the bottom of a hill and gently slopes upward before reaching a small plateau. From there, the cemetery landscape rises at a sharper angle, with small terraced plots. I have no idea how they keep it mowed, but it’s a beautiful place.
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.
For those that are attempting to photograph an entire cemetery, how do you keep track of what you’ve completed?
I have been working section by section to photograph all of Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, PA. It often takes multiple visits to complete a single section and I know where I’ve left off by sight and the name on the stone of the row I need to start.
When I had completed enough that I wanted to track my overall progress, I took a copy of the cemetery map and shaded in the areas that I’ve completed. Does anyone have better methods?
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.
When I spend an hour or three at a cemetery I can easily take 1,000 photographs or more. Uploading them to existing memorials is easy—especially now that findagrave.com has upped the max file size. The hard part—or at least the most time consuming—is creating memorials that don’t already exist for all those images.
As soon as I saw the “Upload and Transcribe Beta” option, I was hooked. The activation link is also present on the homepage near the very bottom of your screen. Enable the tool and then browse to the cemetery where you want to upload images.
Underneath the new Transcriptions header, you’ll find the link to upload images to that particular cemetery. Upload as many as you want and then utilize the “photos to transcribe” link to access your images needing transcription. The screen will look like this:
You can click on a photo and then begin entering the person’s name, birth date, and death date on the right. As you type a surname, a list of possible memorial matches pops up. If the memorial exists, just select the name. Otherwise, type in the information. You can then select done or click to add an additional name. Selecting add details let’s you include maiden name, prefixes, marker transcriptions, etc.
- Creating memorials is quick and easy with this tool. The ability to add multiple names from one stone takes a fraction of the time it takes to create memorials one by one. When you submit, multiple memorials are created with the same photo.
- You can link more than one photo to the same group of memorials by selecting the link icon that shows up on the thumbnail of the photo you’re working with.
- You can zoom in or out on the image up to it’s actual size
- The photo uploader retains management of the memorial and the transcriber is given credit for the entering of the data (which, if you transcribe your own is both)
- The interface is a little cloogy and works best on a large monitor
- It may not be obvious to other transcribers that there are two or more images to be linked together for the same people
- Although the surname field shows you existing memorials, there’s no way to tell whether they already have a photo. The first few I transcribed already had images and I ended up adding doubles. Best to keep the cemetery page open in a separate tab so you can double check for photos when a memorial already exists.
- The system gives the original photo uploader 7 days to transcribe their own images before making them available to the community for transcription. While it’s a nice feature, it would be even nicer if there were a way to release your uploaded images before the 7 days is up.