Whether you’re looking for a family member who recently passed away or researching family history, finding a grave will inevitably be part of the closure process. There’s nothing quite like being able to visit the grave of a long-lost ancestor and stand in silence before a person who is several branches above you on the family tree.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Arkansas?
- Arkansas-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
- Steps for Finding a Grave in Arkansas for Free
Thanks to the wealth of resources available today, finding a grave is becoming easier and easier. In this article, we’ll walk you through several tips and tricks to use when searching for the grave of someone who died in Arkansas, specifically.
What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Arkansas?
Before you begin searching for a loved one or relative’s grave, it’s important to gather together a few key pieces of information. These items include:
- Their first, middle, and last names
- A married woman’s maiden name
- Their birthdate and death date
- Names of their spouse(s)
- Names of their children
- State and/or county where they died
It’s likely that you won’t be able to find all of this information, but even a few pieces will give you a good starting point when searching. Naturally, the more information you can find, the easier your search will be. Knowing that your relative’s name is Gene Louise Herbert will yield more specific results than searching for a G. L. Herbert. Similarly, entering a death date of August 5, 1880, will provide better results than just 1880.
When compiling information about your loved one or distant relative, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.
Airways keep alternative spellings close at hand. One of the biggest reasons people are unable to locate a long-ago relative is because they don’t search for their ancestor’s name using alternative spellings. Why would there be alternative spellings for your loved one’s name? For several reasons.
If they immigrated to America from Europe, the spelling likely changed during the immigration process. Some families changed the spelling on purpose to sound more “American,” and others had the spelling changed accidentally because “Werner” sounded like “Verner” when they spoke it to the immigration recorder.
Spellings can also change due to a clerical error on items like birth and death certificates. Cursive handwriting isn’t always the most legible, and “Cathy” can end up looking like “Cindy,” or “Furhman” can accidentally be read as, “Fieldman” if someone’s handwriting isn’t clear enough.
Finally, people who go by nicknames might put these down on official documents. A “Catherine” might go by “Cathy,” “Cat,” “Kitty,” or “Kit.”
Birth and death dates are another common source of frustration when searching for ancestors from long ago. You might find that exact birth dates aren’t available. Instead, family documents might say something like, “About 1808-1809.” This is understandably frustrating and can tend to make your grave search harder. However, even an approximate date is better than no date at all.
Arkansas-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
A quick search online will reveal plenty of nationwide resources to help you with your grave search. Thankfully, there are also some resources specific to Arkansas.
The Arkansas Gravestone Project has a goal of photographing every single grave in the state of Arkansas and uploading them to a searchable website. There are currently more than 1.3 million graves that have been photographed.
When using this free site, you can search for a grave by county, first name, last name, first initial, or last initial. If you know what county your relative died in, that can help narrow the search much faster than searching for their name and using the “all counties” option.
This website won’t necessarily help you find a loved one’s grave, but it can help you put pieces of the puzzle together. This website contains historical land data for Arkansas including every cemetery that ever existed.
If you know the name of the cemetery where your ancestor was interred, but you don’t know where in Arkansas it’s located, this is the website you need to visit. There are over 4,000 cemeteries contained on the site, listed alphabetically. Click on any one of them, and you’ll have a detailed map with driving directions, GPS coordinates, zip code, and county.
This non-profit genealogy website has a wealth of information you can search by county. Since it is volunteer-run, some counties may have more information than others. Depending on the county, you can search this site to find indexes of cemeteries, churches, maps, wills and probate documents, obituaries, and vital records including birth, marriage, divorce, and death.
While you’re not likely to find the grave location searching this site, it’s an excellent place to go if you have a few pieces of information and need a lot more. By locating a loved one’s marriage certificate, you can find a spouse’s name and often the names of their parents. From there, you can search birth certificate records and find their birth date. With a birthdate, you’re one step closer to finding their grave in a cemetery.
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Steps for Finding a Grave in Arkansas for Free
Here are the steps to take for finding a grave in Arkansas, whether you’re locating a long-lost relative or trying to find out if someone died.
1. Collect information
If you’ve already started searching, you’ll quickly realize the more information you have, the better. Search engines such as the Arkansas references above and nationwide information databases such as ancestry.com all require a minimum amount of information. This includes:
- At least part of the person’s first and/or last name
- Birth dates, death dates, or both
- Location of death
- Names of children and spouse(s)
Though this list is the minimum you’ll want to supply, if you have more information, you can use it for your search. Most research databases have an “advanced search” option that allows you to search with the person’s full name, alternative spellings, and other specific information you may have collected.
2. Talk with family
As you collect information, take some time to talk with family members and ask if anyone has information on the person you’re researching. You might be surprised to learn that there’s helpful information such as a family Bible, a historical marriage document, or an old bill of sale for a property.
Sometimes, families don’t know what each other has, and they may think the items they have aren’t important to family genealogical research. But a family Bible might have birth, death, and marriage records from a hundred years back. A dusty, yellowed bill of sale might reveal the county or city where the old family homestead was located.
Items like these are gold to the family researcher, and every piece of information can help you get that much closer to finding a grave.
3. Search online
Using the information you’ve collected, choose one of the sites mentioned above, or a national database, and start searching for your relative’s grave. Enter as much information as you have available.
If you have a hard time finding your loved one’s grave, try searching for it in several different ways. For example, you can enter:
Full name: Catherine Sandra Abernathy
Alternate name: Kitty S. Abernathy
Married name: Catherine Sandra Hildebrandt
Birth year: 1901
Birthdate: April 3, 1901
County of death: Clark County
Possible place of rest: Cob Hill Cemetery
Spouse’s full name: Peter Joseph Hildebrandt
Spouse’s alternate name: Pete J. Hildebrandt
Continue trying combinations until you start getting search results. If you still can’t find anything, try not to get discouraged. More information is being added to web databases all the time. Try again in a month or two, then again in six months or a year. You never know what might pop up the next time you give it a try.
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4. Locate the cemetery
Once you’ve located the cemetery, visit the cemetery office, if there is one. Many historical cemeteries house on-site archives that may help you locate the exact plot of your relative.
If the cemetery has no archives, check with the town’s library. Libraries often have maps and historical documents archived. Look through old cemetery maps, grave indexes, and local obituaries stored there.
5. Map your relative’s grave
Locating a plot number is only the first part of the equation if you want to visit their grave. Try to locate it on a cemetery map to help you navigate the cemetery and find your relative’s headstone. If you have coordinates instead of a plot location, plug the coordinates into your phone or a GPS tracker, and you can walk right to it by following the GPS arrow.
6. Visit the grave
After you’ve done all the hard work, the moment will finally arrive when you stand before your loved one’s grave. Take a moment to reflect on where in the family tree your relative is positioned and how they relate to you. Recognize the years of history wrapped up in their headstone, and honor their contribution to your life.
When you’re ready to leave, take a few clear pictures of the grave and surrounding area. Make sure you can clearly read what is written on the stone so you can transcribe it for your records. Finally, you may want to leave a flower or other appropriate item in their honor.
Honoring Your Ancestors
Finding the grave of someone who recently passed away or someone who has been deceased for the last hundred years is a significant accomplishment. This activity can provide a sense of closure, peace, and connection with your past. The search to get there might be long, but when you stand before your loved one’s grave, it’ll all be worth it.