Searching for the grave of your relative or long-ago ancestor can provide you with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and connection to your past. Finding a grave isn’t always easy, but it’s well worth the time and effort it takes to locate it.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Alabama?
- Alabama-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
- Steps for Finding a Grave in Alabama for Free
Thankfully, there are numerous resources available to assist you with your search. With a few key pieces of information and some helpful tips along the way, you’re sure to get some hits on your search in no time.
What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Alabama?
Before you fire up your favorite search engine, you’ll want to gather some important pieces of information. Most grave searches require a minimum amount of information to begin your search. The minimum required information usually entails:
- First initial of the first name
- First initial of the last name
With only the above information, you can run database searches for your ancestor’s grave. As you can imagine, you’ll end up with potentially hundreds of listings, since this information is so general. For example, if you search for S. M. in Alabama, you’ll pull up a listing for every person with a grave on record in Alabama whose first name starts with an S and last name begins with an M.
To narrow your searches and hone in on the records that might yield potential results, you’ll want to provide as much information as possible. This includes:
- First, middle, and last names
- Alternative spellings
- Names of spouse(s) and children
- Birthdate or birth year
- Death date or death year
- County where the person died
- Religion (optional but can be helpful)
When searching for someone’s grave, there are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind. These things are especially true for graves of long-ago ancestors.
First, check records for alternative name spellings. Depending on when your relative immigrated to America, they might have changed their last name at the port of entry, such as Ellis Island. This occurred when immigrants wanted to sound more “American” and changed their last name from Yahnsen to Johnson, for example.
Name spellings also changed due to clerical errors when entering information into immigration records or when immigration officers misheard a person’s name.
During your research, check to see if paperwork such as immigration forms reveal any spelling changes and make note of them. Later, while searching for a grave, if one spelling yields few results, try the alternate spelling.
Birth and death dates
Try to determine exact birth and death dates, if possible. One of the few pieces of information contained on almost every headstone is a person’s birth and death dates.
Having both their birth and death dates will provide the most specific results. If you only have one complete date, however, then search using only the complete date. For example, if you know your relative died on April 4, 1906, search for their grave by inputting their name and their death date and don’t worry about their birthdate.
If you don’t know a person’s specific birth or death date, then we recommend searching as close to the estimated year as possible. Once you find some results, then you’ll need to narrow this down using your research to confirm which of the grave results could be your relative.
Alabama-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
Due to the growing popularity of genealogical research, there are many resources to use that will help you search for a loved one’s grave. You can also use these resources to find out if someone died.
The Alabama Gravestone Project is a unique resource that can help you with your search for a loved one’s gravesite. Run by volunteers, the project’s goal is to photograph every gravestone in the state of Alabama. To date, over 8,000 graves have been photographed and uploaded to the website.
You can search for your loved one’s grave using the project’s database of records by entering in the specific county you’re looking for, searching “all counties,” and entering a minimum of a first and last initial. You can also search by cemetery if you already know the cemetery but need specific information on the gravesite.
Requests for photograph copies can be sent to the site administrator.
Interment has a wealth of information for Alabama cemeteries and gravesites. Each county is listed, which you can then click to view cities in alphabetical order. Choose the city you want to check and you’ll then see the cemeteries located in that city. Click on the cemetery and you’ll be provided with directions to the cemetery in addition to a list of gravestone transcriptions.
Find a Grave can be a helpful online resource if you already know where in Alabama your loved one was buried but you’re having a hard time finding information about the cemetery or the individual plot.
This website has recorded all the cemeteries in Alabama, broken down by counties. Each county page has every cemetery in that county listed alphabetically. Once you click on a cemetery, there is information about the location, such as whether the cemetery is still in use, and what kind of condition it’s in.
For example, if you open Barbour County and click on the city of Batesville, you’ll see that there is one cemetery known as the Thornton Family Cemetery. There is no picture of the cemetery, but the description states, “This is a fairly large cemetery, although only 4 graves are marked with tombstones. There are over 200 additional graves that are unmarked, marked by fieldstones, or marked only by cement slabs. The cemetery has not been kept up well.”
You can then click on the “Memorials” button toward the top of the page and read transcribed information for each gravestone at the cemetery.
Steps for Finding a Grave in Alabama for Free
Finding a grave in Alabama might take some dedication and sleuth work, but once you find it, it’ll be well worth the time and effort you put into it.
1. Collect information
The first step in the search process is to collect as much information as possible. That means your ancestor’s full name, maiden name if applicable, birth and death dates, county or city where they died, and a cemetery name if you have it.
The more information you have, the easier your search will be. If you’re working with a limited amount of information, try not to get discouraged. Sometimes it’s just one key piece of the puzzle that will produce results such as an alternate spelling or a specific birth or death date.
2. Start with one resource
When searching for a grave in a cemetery, it can be tempting to use multiple research tools simultaneously. Opening up a dozen tabs on your computer, however, isn’t needed.
Choose one research tool, such as those listed above, and enter the information you have. See what information it brings up. One site might not yield many results, but you could find the critical piece of information that another site requires to find the full result.
Work your way through each resource one at a time and note down new pieces of information you collect along the way.
3. Visit local resources
If you’re able to locate the county or city, but you’re having a hard time figuring out which cemetery they’re in, pay a visit to local resource centers such as county archives or the local library archives.
Local archives often contain information that hasn’t yet been put online such as obituaries, old photographs, and information about the area. If available, perform an archive search using your loved one’s name and dates. You might be able to find a record of their obituary and interment this way.
4. Visit the cemetery
Some cemeteries have an archives office with burial records, plot records, and gravestone transcriptions. If available, visit the cemetery office and ask if there are archives you can search. You may be led to a room with a few hundred binders, but they’ll be organized by date, making your search doable if you have an exact or approximate date when your ancestor was buried.
5. Print or download maps
Newer cemeteries can provide you with a cemetery map so you can more easily locate your loved one’s grave. Old cemeteries, however, might not have any map or might have changed topographically. Obtain the best map of the area you can to help you when locating your loved one’s grave.
If your research turns up geographic coordinates for a gravesite instead of a plot number, use your phone or a dedicated GPS tracker to help you navigate to the exact location.
6. Walk the cemetery
You might not be able to zero in on your loved one’s plot location until you visit the cemetery. If you have photographs of your loved one’s headstone, try to determine the location by looking at other headstones in the picture. Reference the picture frequently and compare it to your surroundings to find the appropriate place in the cemetery where your ancestor is buried.
Once you find it, document your findings with pictures and precise coordinates so you or your loved ones can return.
Finally, consider leaving something at a grave in their honor, such as a flower.
Honoring a Relative’s Life and Legacy
Visiting the grave of your relative or ancestor is an important way to honor their life and the contributions they’ve made to your family. Though finding their grave might take some time, we know you’ll think it’s worth it when you do.