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

Updated

Visiting a grave can be helpful for many reasons. 

Perhaps you are seeking a person’s grave for emotional reasons. For example, you may feel that the visit will give you closure or the opportunity to grieve a loss. Others may wish to visit a grave to learn more about the deceased.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Regardless of your reason, let us help you find a grave in Illinois (for free). 

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

Before you get too far, please understand that this article will not help you find an individual grave within a cemetery. Instead, this article will help you find which Illinois cemetery to visit. 

Here’s the basic information that will help you find a headstone in Illinois. However, having this information won’t guarantee that you’ll be successful in your mission.

Name

What is the deceased’s given name? 

You might think the answer to this question would be simple, but if they were born in Illinois before 1877, there might not be an official government record of their birth. Instead, their birth name may have been recorded in family records, in the family Bible, in church baptismal records, or within a census. 

Even if you know (or uncover) the person’s given name, their death records may be recorded under a nickname. It was common for people to use their middle name instead of their first name. To complicate things, identical names were often repeated in the same family tree. Of course, marriage, divorce, and remarriage also may have played an important role in the name that is found on the headstone. 

Dates

Unless the name is unique to the area, you are going to need to know a lot more about the person than their name to find a headstone in Illinois. Knowing the birth and death dates of the deceased may also be needed to help you find their burial site.

Knowing the approximate birth and death dates will help you use some online resources that we will inform you of in the next section. It will also help you research government records, newspaper obituaries, and funeral home records. Knowing the date of death will be particularly helpful.

Location of Death

You might know the full name of the deceased and the exact date of death, but you still may have difficulty finding a gravesite in Illinois. This may be because the person actually died in another state.

Long-distance visits were not as common a century ago. Visits, if made, were extended. If a person died while visiting someone in a different state, the body would often be buried at the place of death. After all, cremation was not a standard option until the last several decades, and transferring a corpse was expensive. 

If you can verify the specific place of death, you can narrow your search to funeral homes and cemeteries within a given radius.

Illinois-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave

Do you know the name, birth date, death date, and location of death of the deceased? Using the information you gathered, use one of these resources to find their grave. Your quest may be over in a matter of minutes!

Find A Grave

The most popular resource for finding the burial site is the aptly-named website, Find A Grave. Find a Grave asks users to plug in the name(s) of the deceased, their birth and death dates, and the location of death. They also allow you to add the names of some of the deceased’s relatives. The result of this search may be a photograph of the deceased’s headstone.

Volunteers add photographs of headstones and other vital data to the website. But, of course, not every cemetery in Illinois has been visited, so don’t be surprised if this search isn’t successful.

Billion Graves

Billion Graves works the same way as Find A Grave – volunteers take photos and enter information about the deceased for this website. Billion Graves uses a similar format as Find A Grave and allows you to search using the deceased’s name, the approximate birth and death years, and the place of death. 

Interment

Interment is another helpful website that will allow you to track down vital information for a loved one or friend. This website is beneficial because it provides users with Illinois-specific resources.

Interment links to Illinois newspapers, obituaries, and death notices. It also connects you to county-specific resources and online cemetery records available in the state. 

The only drawback of using this website is that some of the records are not available for free. However, you might be able to access one piece of information if you sign up for a free trial.

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Ancestry

Probably your single greatest resource to learn information about your family tree is Ancestry. Ancestry offers a paid subscription, but you can also access some information for free.

Through Ancestry, you can search for information on the family trees users post online. The information may include the burial information of the deceased, or it may simply give you additional clues to help you narrow your search for the burial site. 

Nationwide Gravesite Locator (provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)

Did your family member serve in the U.S. Military? If you can’t find the cemetery records from other searches, they could be buried in a national cemetery. This database allows you to search for burial sites using the person’s last name, date of birth, and date of death. 

You can also search for your soldier’s grave through the American Battle Monuments Commission website. 

Illinois Genealogical Records

Learn more about accessing birth, death, and census records from the Illinois State Archives. This website also has information that may help you in your research, such as marriage certificates, land sale records, and military service records. 

Reasons You Can’t Find a Gravesite

We hope you could find the gravesite in Illinois you were looking for, but if you weren’t able to, there might be a good reason. Here are some thoughts on why the information might not be available – at least online. 

The person is still living

Check the birthdate of the person. Could it be that you are seeking the death records of a person who is still alive? Learn more about how to find out if someone is still alive before you continue your search. 

The cemetery records aren’t online

Not all historical records are online. For example, the burial records for your ancestor might be sitting in an old musty basement in a courthouse in Illinois. Or perhaps the Find a Grave and Billion Graves volunteers haven’t recorded the headstones in your loved one’s cemetery. 

The headstone is difficult or impossible to read

Throughout the centuries, people have marked graves with the materials available to them. But, unfortunately, some of those grave markers haven’t stood the test of time. 

Your loved one’s grave may be unmarked or marked with a headstone that is difficult to read. 

Your loved one was buried on private land

Much of Illinois is rural. If your ancestor was a landowner and died in rural Illinois, they might have been buried on their own property. Even if the grave was marked, finding a grave on a person’s private land will be extremely difficult.  

Steps for Finding a Grave in Illinois for Free

Perhaps you feel as if you have exhausted all of your resources, and you are frustrated that you still can’t find a grave in Illinois. Don’t give up. Here are some other resources to consider.

1. Seek help from extended family members

Reach out to the oldest living person in your family. Chances are they might love a visit from an extended relative, especially if they are encouraged to talk about the past during the visit.

Even if the person doesn’t remember the burial site of the person you are seeking, they might have a box of funeral notices and obituaries that you can look through to find the information you need. 

2. Visit the Illinois community where your ancestor lived and died

Both large and small communities in Illinois have historical societies. These places are usually run by individuals who love research and have a vast knowledge of the area. 

Visit the community where your ancestor lived (or died). Even if the small town doesn’t seem to have resources, visit the county seat. If that doesn’t help, go to the state historical society. 

3. Hire a genealogy expert

We’ve given you a lot of resources to help you find the burial site of your ancestor. However, your search may have come to a dead end. You might consider hiring a genealogy expert who lives in the community where your ancestor lived. They might know how to access local resources, such as church records, that aren’t readily available to you.

4. Visit the local cemeteries

While this may not feel like the most efficient way to find a grave, you might consider visiting local cemeteries near the person’s death location. You could consult the cemetery records or simply stroll through the grounds if those aren’t available.

This may not seem like an ideal solution, but cemeteries can be peaceful places to visit. You can reflect on life and death as you read headstones looking for your loved one’s grave. 

Did You Find Your Loved One’s Grave in Illinois?

Were you able to find the grave in Illinois? Consider leaving a gift at the gravesite to honor your loved one. Make sure you understand the cemetery regulations before leaving something that will be promptly discarded. 

If you're an Illinois resident and ready to start preparing your own end-of-life planning documents, Cake has Advance Care Planning forms you can download. To help ease your planning, we have all the documents you need in one place.

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