Walking in cemeteries

This was the third chat for the #ANZAncestryTime twitter group. Tonight was more informal and included many images of gravestones and cemeteries members had visited. But we still had our set questions. Two new words I learnt tonight were:

Taphophilia – here is a site to check out its meaning

Coimetromania – post here about the meaning

Q1 Where is your favourite cemetery to research and why?

I’m going to put a list of cemeteries mentioned at the end of this post with links to any databases etc related to them. But most mentioned they research a cemetery where their ancestors were buried. A few different reasons appeared:

Fran said: The winning cemetery for me is Karori Cemetery in Wellington, NZ. It has many of my ancestors graves or entries in the memorial book. Best they have a great free database managed by Wellington City Council.

Jennifer had a different reason: At the moment it’s Axedale in central Victoria. I’m currently recording all the graves for my One Place Study.

Hilary said: No favourite as not had chance to get to any where family are since I retired

Jill mentioned: One of my favourite cemeteries is Glasnevin in Dublin. Friendly staff, genealogist on site, online ancestor search. Fantastic graves and headstones. Interesting tours and brimming with history.

Sharn had a great reason for liking her cemetery: I have a soft spot for Cooroy Cemetery in Qld where my gg grandparents were both buried in 1927 because my husband David restored the headstone. Now, there’s more to the story but…. another time! See question 3 below for rest of story.

Jill enjoyed visiting another on her travels: I loved the Green-Wood Cemetery in New York. The staff were not at all helpful but we still managed to find a monument that listed details of ancestors we didn’t know about.

Seonaid said: My favourite NZ cemetery would have to be Symonds St Cemetery – the 1st cemetery in Auckland, where all the early Auckland settlers were buried. In use since 1842.

Being Tasmanian: My favourite cemetery is at Cornelian Bay in Hobart as that is where majority of my ancestors are buried. Also love that it is online and searchable through Millingtons.

Pauline mentioned: My absolute favourite cemetery for research is the large Drayton & Toowoomba Cemetery in Qld. Lots of rellies but an excellent search facility giving dates, locations and even photos of the gravestones!

Liz said: I have researched burials in many cemeteries but especially like the country cemeteries where the pioneers lay at rest. Many historical graves

Maggie said: Love Temuka cemetery in South Canterbury – lots of whānau buried there. Timaru District council and their cemetery search and photos means you can do it from home too

Brooke had an unusual reason: My favourite cemetery is the graveyard attached to All Saints Anglican at Sutton Forest. Why? It’s a good day trip escape from my kids 😉

Melissa said: Maybe I’m biased because I live out West, but Waikumete Cemetery is my fave. I only have a couple of relatives there, but it’s full of awesome characters.

View from Norfolk Island Cemetery when I visited in 2019

Q2 was about links or tips about favourite cemeteries

  • I love visiting my ancestors’ last resting place, a way of connecting to them.
  • Cemeteries are a good way to get kids interested in genealogy. They like ghoul.
  • I have started to take photos for the one in my village at the end of my cul de sac.
  • So important to take photos before headstone degrade. Most important now that some cemeteries are removing headstones and recycling graves.
  • When we visit the cemeteries we also get to see the area where they lived and worked.
  • Some cemeteries are huge so wear good walking shoes. Many of the older parts do not have paths and it’s hilly too. Check out possible locations of graves before hand so you can park closer. The office is typically most helpful.
  • It is always terrific if you are able to visit the cemetery in person if possible and locate the graves of your relatives.
  • Always look for more than one burial, even if you are just concentrating your search on an individual. It is not uncommon to have family members buried with each other and / or very close by.
  • Check to see if there are any memorial inscriptions or graveyard maps published – many local societies have done amazing work. Especially useful when headstones have been removed or are illegible.
  • Combine the information on a headstone with some Trove research. How could I not try to find out something about a man named ‘Dolphin’? He’s no relation to me, but I popped my findings onto Ancestry & helped someone.
  • Headstones can give additional information that may not be found elsewhere. There might be a year or exact date of birth, or the place where they were born, or other family members on the headstone or nicknames.
  • Symbolism about the person may be reflected in the actual monument or style of grave.
  • I take photos of family graves and their neighbours when visiting cemeteries and upload them to BillionGraves.
  • If not online, consider visiting in office hours where some of the big cemeteries have staff to consult. They may have grave maps to direct you to the plot
  • Remember, sometimes they have incorrect data – as always -need to check.
  • Calling ahead is also a good move
  • Take a notebook and note down the inscriptions in case you can’t read them properly on the photo later
  • If the cemetery is associated with a church (as many in the UK are) researching the church’s history may be advantageous
  • Burial records will indicate who is also buried in the same grave and it is not unusual to find unknown people in your research. All internments may not be indicated on the headstone
  • if travelling check ahead to find out as much as possible about the cemetery
  • A lot of burial records are now online, either via local councils or cemetery Trusts or via other larger websites such as FMP, Ancestry and FamilySearch or via crowd sourced websites such as Find a grave and Billiongraves
  • I find that searching regional council websites can lead me to their grave search options – very helpful. Some are database and some are pdf.
  • I’ve found funeral notices or obituaries more useful for burial information.
  • Also beware that the person may have been buried elsewhere then relocated and reburied closer to family.
  • Public libraries hold unique often fairly accessible local history collections. Check the library in the location where your ancestor lived for cemetery records
  • The local Family History Society often have indexes.
  • Errors in transcriptions online does happen, so if a photograph of a headstone is not available, try to find and compare several different versions of headstone transcriptions for a particular cemetery.
  • We can’t always rely on the inscription on the headstone. Multiple sources to verify are important
  • So many people are cremated these days that we cannot often locate the place of scattering. A frustration for genies
  • Be very imaginative with your spelling. The search engine isn’t very intuitive. I discovered that many names starting with Mc have a space between the Mc and the rest. Eg, my McClure ancestors are listed as Mc Clure. I drop the prefix altogether and find I get much better results in most cases. Eg: Search Clure only or search Kilda instead of St Kilda
  • We need to apply the same rules that we apply for all searches.
  • Do other people use funeral director’s records? They can offer more info and also take you beyond the closure period on BDM.
  •  Best trick EVER to read old Gravestones given by a stone carver! PART 1 youtu.be/dyGlVWvGZbs  This guy’s voice! But he’s right about the mirror.
  • Can also read the inscription aloud and record your voice on your smart phone
  • Yes, whenever I visit a graveyard or cemetery, I photo all the headstones in my ancestor’s plot and post on FindAGrave. It doesn’t take much time and if it helps someone with #Genealogy, I’m paying it forward in thanks for what others have posted in the past!


Headstone of William and Caroline Chandler, my great great grandparents. Note flower on top – William was a gardener.


Q3 mentioned scary or funny happenings while you have been at a cemetery

Fran: Nothing exciting ever happens to me at graveyards or cemeteries. I have stayed at one when visiting an Aunt and Uncle. My Uncle worked at the Taita Cemetery and had a home with the job. Perhaps this is why I am not frightened of them from playing there

Pauleen: amusing (for me, not hubby)> standing on the bonnet of the hire car to climb over the metal spikey fence at Bodyke cemetery, Co Clare. Tore my trousers but not me 😉

Sharn: I fell into an old dry grave once. It was not a nice feeling!

Liz: A couple of times I have found family graves just by walking around the old fashioned way with no knowledge of the location of a grave. Was I being guided in some way ??

Seonaid: Many have tales to tell of meeting unexpected characters in Symonds St Cemetery – see links below in cemetery list

Sandra: A few close-enough encounters with snakes, spiders and webs. Once I was engrossed in writing something down and looked up and noticed I was surrounded by a group of kangaroos

Sharn: Scary experience for others while my husband was restoring the headstone at Cooroy Cemetery. being a very hot day, and with no one around, my husband striped to his undies to do the work and suddenly a funeral procession arrived….

Pauleen: scary..a bit. The rabbit that burst out of its burrow under a semi-fallen gravestone in Bothkennar kirkyard in Stirlingshire.

Sylvia: Walked into churchyard in Wiltshire & saw a family surname on headstone very close to church door. Took photo & it turned out to be brides sister & witness of my 2xg grandparents wedding

Brooke: Not actually in a cemetery, but someone mentioned scattering ashes, which reminded me of the time I was helping with a service at the beach. Dad & I took the ashes & wreath out past the break. The wind blew old Frank’s ashes all over us as we scattered him.😱

Q4 was any unusual or dramatic gravestones discovered





Cemeteries mentioned

New Zealand



Posts about cemeteries or headstones

Jill also has a website with many small cemeteries around Australia listed including links to them.

Seonaid wrote about headstones at Symonds Street, Auckland.

Merron has written about cemeteries in the Western district of Victoria.

Carmel has written about remote cemeteries not on Google maps.

Carmel has started a geneameme relating to cemeteries. Find out about it in this post.

Readers: What do you enjoy about cemeteries? Where is your favourite one?

3 thoughts on “Walking in cemeteries

  1. Walking on the Bong Bong to Burradoo pathway from the Bong Bong Bridge (between Moss Vale and Bowral NSW) there is a plan of the early settlement there. It includes several unmarked burial sites but no information. The settlement was only a soldiers’ barracks at first but there is archaeological evidence of several buildings. The place was first settled in 1821 and lasted till about 1870 when the railway bypassed the area.
    What I would like to know is can anyone suggest if there might be any way to find out more about the burials there?

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