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Cemetery Records

Overview

When there are no formally registered birth, marriage and death records, cemetery records may serve as an alternative source. There are various types of information that can be extracted from cemeteries. 

Gravestones usually contain the date of birth and death. It may also include military service, description of relationship in the family, or cause of death.

Search Strategies

"Cemetery record" is a broad term that describes a variety of possible records created to show who is buried in a cemetery and, possibly, who purchased the lot, listing a next of kin. These documents are found in a variety of places.

  • Records of church cemeteries are often found in the church records either at a local or regional level. 
  • Public cemeteries have records maintained by a sexton, caretaker or town clerk. 
  • Records of family cemeteries are not always maintained and the lots are generally located on private property with no records to show who is buried there. Check family manuscript collections. 
  • Consider that cemeteries have been moved, stones have been vandalized and records have been lost. Check with local libraries or historical societies to find out about relocated cemeteries.

First do a history of the town and years in question. Create a list of names and locations of cemeteries that existed at that time and place. Consider private and public cemeteries along with church cemeteries. Use the following resources:

  • Published county histories
  • City directories
  • Newspapers

Some surveys have been done to index or extract names that are found on gravestones or records. Various groups and individuals create these lists for a variety of reasons. Some have been published in genealogical periodicals and are indexed in PERSI (Periodical Source Index). The Wisconsin Historical Society has copies of PERSI on CD and in book form. Surveys of cemeteries are not cemetery records. They are secondary sources and should be checked against the actual source. Note the source of information that the author used and where that source is located. The author may have transcribed the information from the gravestone or the documents held by the sexton, caretaker or town clerk.

What the Society Owns

Cemetery records are not always easily located or organized; you must be persistent and check a variety of sources. Some records from Wisconsin church, public and private cemeteries have been deposited here at the Wisconsin Historical Society, and these are found in the Library and Archives Divisions. As a general rule, if the collection was published, you will find it in the Library. If the collection was not published, it will be found in the Archives. You must check the computer catalog (Library Catalog (formerly MadCat) and ArCat) for the name of the cemetery, church or town in which the cemetery is located.

Many Wisconsin cemeteries have been transcribed and published in the Newsletter (Wisconsin State Genealogical Society). To find a bibliography of publications listing persons buried in specific Wisconsin cemeteries, consult Index to Copies of Cemetery Inscription Lists Available at the Library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin by Patricia G. Harrsch, 1994.

Another collection that covers Wisconsin cemeteries is the Guyant Collection of Tombstone Inscriptions. This collection includes tombstone inscriptions copied between 1970 and 1981 by Wayne and Alta Guyant in cemeteries in seventeen Wisconsin counties, and clipped newspaper obituaries and other related items. The records represent every known cemetery in Florence, Langlade, Portage, Waupaca, and Waushara counties and many in Adams, Barron, Forest, Green Lake, Juneau, Lincoln, Marquette, Oneida, Outagamie, Shawano, Winnebago, and Wood counties. Included is an original record book of the Meadow Creek Cemetery, Barron County, Wis. This collection is on microfilm in the Library's Microforms Room (2nd floor).

How to Access Cemetery Records

Interlibrary Loan:
In general, cemetery records do not circulate. The Guyant collection is an exception to this rule. Contact your local library to request reels from this collection.

Research by Mail/Fax:
Requests for cemetery information usually entail some time and are treated as a research request. Visit Library Services for more information on fees and procedures.

Who will you find?

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