How to Find a Grave in California for Free: Step-by-Step

Updated

Are you trying to find a grave in California, but you’re not sure of its exact location? There are many potential reasons you may find yourself in this position. For example, you might have an interest in genealogy, and you’re looking for the grave of a long-lost relative. Or, you may be searching for a historical figure’s grave as part of a research project.

Jump ahead to these sections:

No matter your reason for wanting to find a particular grave, when you don’t know its location, the process of searching for it can seem intimidating. That doesn’t mean it needs to be. There are various resources and methods that can make the process of finding a grave in California much easier. This guide will cover some of the more noteworthy.

What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in California?

Finding a grave in California or any other state is often much easier to accomplish if you do some preliminary research and gather some essential information before starting your actual search. Pieces of information you may want to gather include the following:

The basics

Naturally, it’s important to know the full name of the individual whose grave you’re trying to find. It’s also helpful to know other basic information, such as when they were born, when they died, and where they lived.

You don’t necessarily need to know the exact dates of a person’s birth and death to find their grave. You can still find a grave if you have a general sense of when someone was born and when they died.

Additionally, if you’re not sure of the exact name of the town in which someone was living when they died, that won’t always prevent you from finding their grave. That said, having a basic idea of the region in which someone died or spent most of their life can be valuable when you’re trying to determine which cemetery their grave is located in.

It’s also worth noting that you may already know the name of the cemetery where a grave is. You might simply not know the exact spot of the grave. In this case, finding a grave can be relatively easy.

If the cemetery has a website, it might also have a search tool with an accompanying map that will let you type in a person’s name to find the location of their grave. If not, you can contact those who own or run the cemetery and ask for assistance.

(Tip: For more information on this process, check our guide on how to find a grave in a cemetery.)

Additional identifying information and documents

Along with the basic information about an individual, such as their name, there are other pieces of information and documents that may prove useful when you’re trying to find a grave in California.

For instance, you might be attempting to find the grave of someone who belonged to a specific group or demographic that could provide clues to where their grave is. Perhaps they were a veteran. If so, their grave may be in a veterans cemetery. Or, they may have been devoted to a particular faith. In that case, their grave may be in a cemetery for members of that religion.

Depending on the circumstances, it’s also possible you have access to documents that can help you track down someone’s grave in California. For example, if you’re looking for the grave of a family member, you may be able to find personal correspondence that might offer clues. 

California-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave

Various resources can help you in your search for someone’s grave in California. They include the following:

Find a Grave

Find a Grave’s search tool isn’t technically California-specific, but it can be useful if you know the name of the person whose grave you’re searching for, as well as the dates of their birth and death. It’s also quite helpful if you think you know the region of the cemetery in which they are buried. However, you can also turn to Find a Grave’s index of California cemeteries as well.

Various California historical societies

If you’re looking for the grave of someone who was a noteworthy figure or who lived a relatively long time ago, and you know the general area where their grave may be located in California, you could search online to find out if there are any historical societies in that area. Reach out to them if you find any. It’s possible they have records that might be of use to you.

Similarly, in some instances, local libraries have archives that may contain information about burials and deaths. You may want to search through them if historical societies are unable to help you or if there are no historical societies operating in the area where you think someone may have been buried.

The VA’s website

The VA has a section of its website for every state in the country listing the locations of veterans cemeteries. This may of course be a potentially useful tool if you’re searching for the grave of someone who served in the armed forces. Additionally, you could contact the VA directly and ask if they have information about the location of a particular veteran’s grave. Sometimes, this information is available.

California Church Records

Through the website FamilySearch.org, you can search for various California church records. This can sometimes be an effective way to find a grave if you have an idea of the region where someone was buried or died and you know they were religious. Sometimes, church records contain information about the deaths and burials of members of a church’s congregation.

Additionally, similar to Find a Grave, FamilySearch offers tools and resources for finding information about various California cemeteries. Consider using this tool if Find a Grave does not prove helpful.

Interment

The California page of the website Interment.net allows users to search for records from cemeteries in California. This is another tool that may be helpful if others don’t provide the information you need.

Steps for Finding a Grave in California for Free

The exact process involved in finding a particular grave can vary depending on numerous factors. Generally, though, the process will involve the following steps:

1. Search for their obituary online

Be aware that sometimes the process of finding someone’s grave can be remarkably simple. Before conducting more extensive research, Google the name of the person whose grave you’re looking for, plus the word “obituary.” It’s possible their obituary is available online. If it is, there’s a good chance it will name the cemetery where you can find their grave.

You can also Google someone’s name along with terms like “burial location” or “grave.” If they were a noteworthy figure in any capacity, there may be websites offering information about where they were buried.

Also, keep in mind that if you’re looking for the grave of a relative and none of the relatives with whom you are in contact know where it is, you may potentially use social media to find more distant relatives who could maybe help you with your search. That said, you want to be respectful and tactful when reaching out to them.

2. Use the resources listed here

If searching for a person’s obituary via Google doesn’t yield any helpful results, you can then begin searching for a grave by using the resources covered in the previous section of this article. Just keep in mind that it can take some time to find a grave when conducting research. If the first resource or tool you try doesn’t help you track down the grave for which you’re searching, don’t give up right away. It’s entirely possible another resource will be effective.

3. Contact the cemetery or use the cemetery’s website to find a grave

By the time you reach this step, you may be fairly confident you’ve properly identified the name of the cemetery where the grave you’re looking for is. At the very least, you should have a list of potential candidates.

You can now check the websites of these cemeteries to find out if they have search tools to help you locate a grave. You may contact a cemetery’s owners if no such tool exists.

Even if a cemetery doesn’t have a website, it should still be fairly easy to find the contact information for its owners by searching online. You might also want to request a map of the cemetery when speaking with the owners if one isn’t available online. This will simplify the process of finding the exact spot of a grave.

You can now begin preparing to visit a grave you’ve been searching for. For example, at this stage in your search, you might want to begin thinking about such topics as what to leave at a grave.

How to Find a Grave in California: A Variety of Methods

Remember, although it may take you some time to find a grave in California, it’s still often possible to do so with a little research. The information here can help. To learn more about a similar topic, check out our guide on how to find out if someone died.

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.