Re: Uncooperative Cemetery Personnel #usa

David Harrison <djh_119@...>

I have read many letters in this series.  It seems that your systems in the USA are very different to the systems in these islands and elsewhere in Europe for which I have searched.  Always historic records of BMD are kept nationally.  In various towns cemeteries are owned by (groups of) Synagogues or the town or a church etc.  If I am searching in any area of which I have no local knowledge, I contact the local Information Office for advice on where to search.  If I am lucky in the UK, there may be a Local History Society .   More than once, if searching in person, the owner of the B&B might know which person would have the knowledge, in one case her mother, who came over the following evening and told us much about the family of the great grandparents.  In another a member of the local history society did a pile of research in their files going back a couple of hundred years for a very small fee.  In Europe, archivists have trolled through their records.  The big problem is Victorian Railway Engineers who in one case drove a line through a graveyard which then became the town wharf and now houses the Registrar Office for BMD and Civil marriages are made there..  But in old graves there may be just a plot without a stone, but the town has a record of the plot.

David Harrison
Birmingham, England

From: main@... <main@...> on behalf of A. E. Jordan via <>
Sent: 21 May 2021 12:51
To: mrme1914@... <mrme1914@...>; main@... <main@...>
Subject: Re: [] Uncooperative Cemetery Personnel #usa
-----Original Message-----
From: Jx. Gx. <mrme1914@...>
I contacted the NYC cemetery where my ggf and ggm are buried and asked if they could check the burial file for my ggf and tell me the name of the congregation that he belong to because I'm certain it would be included in the actual original folder. The guy refused to give me that information.

I have done a lot of work at the NYC area cemeteries and the level of cooperation varies greatly between cemetery and even the individual you are dealing with, and of curse the day. However, I think from my experience people way over estimate the amount of information the cemeteries have in their files. Pre-pandemic I had the opportunity with my work to "go behind the wall" so to speak at some of the offices. Recently for one of the research cases I was working on when I got to the grave it was a double stone for husband and wife but no one had ever had the wife's information completed after death so it only had her name. We needed more information so I decided to write the office, not call, and explained only in basic terms that I needed to document the grave and could they send me the file or something. I expected a letter but instead they also sent a copy of the individual's burial card.

Based on a lot of hours spent working with cemeteries I believe they know the name of the person, age, who made the arrangements or who was considered "responsible" for the grave in the sense of a contact for care.Some record where the person died and that is about it. If there was a contract for the purchase of the plot or grave they have that and a lot of them have notations if or when a stone was set. They mostly record the date of burial versus date of death.

Cemeteries for the most part have the contract for the grave if it was purchased from them and not via the society. They have the burial permit (different than the death certificate) and that's about it. They are going to know the name of the funeral home although that often does not get transferred into their files either.

They do not collect voluminous amounts of details about the deceased person ... they have no need for it. Basically they need to know what grave to open, when it will be used and the permission to do the burial.

I have seen into those "magic" files and they just are not a complete as people hope. Add in the number of years and the information that survives declines further.

The older cemeteries have one other tool that hey do not publicize which is the burial books. They are strictly by date or some also have them by society plot. In those cases they are nothing more than name, date and location. One of the cemeteries I work with at least in the old days occasionally made notes specifically if someone was removed from their grave in the burial book. I was looking for a grave last Sunday at that cemetery and could not find it and the office after checking the computer went and pulled the burial book and it showed the person was removed and they had the date and where the person was transferred.

Specifically in response to the individual question ,,, why would the cemetery have collected the name of the person's congregation if it was different than the burial society? Who would they have kept that all these years later?  They simply do not need those type of details to do their business. A better question might be if they know anything or have any details or contacts for the burial society. That might lead to the congregation if there was a connect but a lot of the societies were independent social organizations. Often if you find they are still in business at all, the society is maintained by the oldest member out of a shoe box or a ledger book and not much else.

The location in the process that collects the information is the funeral home. They have a role in the death certificate. They act as the go between setting up the burial. They have contact with usually family members. They often arrange for the burial notice or the obit. Of course the first challenge is finding the name of the funeral home, the second does it still exist, and the third being the age of the record. I have found a lot of them to be very cooperative if I can find them and the records still exist. I have gotten them to read details off to me on the phone or I ask questions such as I say I assume such and such was the next of kin and they confirm. If you can not find the grave they can be a great source to find the burial. I always ask them did they arrange an obit and if it is in the file they know where and when it ran.

As for the last question about legal resource .... this is not a public institution where you can use FOIA. It is a private business. You have to remember they get inundated with phone calls from people doing genealogy. A letter saying you are trying to resolve family matters (don't say genealogy) might get a response but don't assume they have kept detailed information on the person's life.

Allan Jordan
New York

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