The Cemetery for the Genealogist

By Nettie Oliver 
Genealogy Specialist

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Locating the burial place of an ancestor, however, may be a challenge. If your ancestor lived in a large community there may be several possible places of burial. Two of the best sources to help solve this problem are obituaries and death certificates. Once you have found the name of the cemetery, it is not difficult to determine its location. Older citizens, church officials and funeral directors can usually provide this information. The Filson has in its collection the Kentucky death certificates from 1911 to 1950. We also have some City of Louisville mortality schedules from 1866 to 1910 that show where persons are buried.

When visiting the cemetery, be sure to take note of those who are buried in the same plot or vicinity of your ancestor. Take a picture of the tombstone or do a rubbing, especially when the effects of aging and weathering have made the stone difficult to read. However, if you do a rubbing, make sure it is done properly as it can add further damage to the tombstone. Be sure to check both sides of the stones, especially in older cemeteries as tombstones in the same row may face different directions. Again, ask residents of communities where graveyards are located. They may know of small family graveyards of which no one else may know.

In the early years of our development, it was customary for land to be set aside by families on their property for the burial of their dead or they may have been buried in their churchyard cemetery. This custom was brought to America from the Old World and was especially prevalent in the colonial era. By the middle of the l9th century, increased population, health conditions and urbanization made the public burial ground a more fitting place for burials.

There are literally hundreds of graveyards scattered throughout Louisville and Jefferson County. Many are well marked and maintained by descendants, while others are lost. While some are elaborately designed and maintained, others are simple and suffer from neglect. Some display handsome and ornate monuments and markers; others are simple, deteriorated, or simply have no markers at all.

The Louisville area is well represented by public cemeteries and church cemeteries of all religious traditions, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. There are special burying places for those who served in the military, as well as appropriated burial places for the indigent.

In the collections of The Filson Historical Society, there are many valuable listings of those buried in many cemeteries in the area, as well as histories of the cemeteries. The Filson possesses a listing of those who are buried in Cave Hill Cemetery, the city's largest public cemetery, giving the lot number and date of interment. Also among the society's resources are microfilm listings of the Eastern, Schardein, and Greenwood cemeteries.

The data for many other cemeteries in the area have been recorded and published in numerous sources that can be accessed in The Filson's library. A complete listing of those cemeteries has been indexed by the library staff.

It is always best to visit the cemetery directly. You will be aware of clues that others might overlook. A publication is a poor substitute for a personal visit. Also remember that visiting these sacred burial places does not have to be a sad or a morbid occasion but can be a real source of connecting to those who have gone on before. By seeing these final resting places of our ancestors, those names on our genealogical charts acquire greater meaning.

Volume 3, Number 4

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The Filson Historical Society
1310 South Third Street - Louisville, KY 40208
Phone: (502) 635-5083 Fax: (502) 635-5086

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