Cemetery Lot Cards
by: Illya D'Addezio
If you think the only information you can get from a cemetery is the location of where your ancestor
is buried, then you are in for a big surprise. Of course, this all depends on what century you are
Most cemeteries keep records, often on small 'Lot' cards, for all of the sections and plots within
the cemetery. These cards will typically have information about the individuals buried in a
particular plot. That's correct, I said individuals. In families of modest wealth, large plots
were often purchased so that the entire family could be buried together. So you might discover some
unexpected relatives co-residing with the individual you are researching.
Another key piece of information is the name of the individual that purchased
the plot. This can be extremely helpful if the person that bought the plot was
a daughter of the deceased. Tracking the female line of your ancestry is always a
difficult task if noone know married names. If a female purchased the plot, you might
be able to find her married name. In one situation that was how I was able to discover
an entire branch of my family tree.
Of course, the 'lot' cards will typically have burial dates, and sometimes even the
age of the deceased. These dates can be valuable in tracking other documents, like
death certificates. In a few cases, I was able to find out the name of the funeral
home, the town in which they died and even their cause of death. In many states the
death certificate is filed with the town in which the individual passed away, so
the 'lot' card can be invaluable if it has that information on it.
The information contained on the cards will vary from cemetery to cemetery. From my
experience it has been a 50/50 split between getting a tiny amount of information and
a whole lot. (pun intended!)
How to Obtain a Lot Card
Here's the catch... Most cemeteries are still dealing with manual records, literally
'Lot' cards in an index file by date of burial. If you have the exact date of death or
burial, you should have no problem. Otherwise, try to give as much information as possible,
year, month and in one case I had success by asking my living relatives what the weather
was like at the burial and determined the season of the year.
If you visit the plot, there should be a section and lot number inscribed on the
grave marker. Since my name is often mispelled, in a few cases I had to visit the site and
get the numbers myself in order to get the 'lot' cards.
Remember, this is usually a manual process and in most cases a free service. Be extremely
polite and ALWAYS include a self-addressed stamped envelope as a courtesy.
When you write your letter to the cemetery, include the FULL names of the individuals you
are looking for. These are cemeteries, not research centers. They are not inclined to
look through an entire index file for a surname.
Your actual results may vary, and in my experience I received most responses within a week or two,
others took longer. Sadly, some cemeteries never responded.