Taking the time to find gravesites is one of the best ways to connect with your ancestors. We all want to believe we’ll be remembered when we’re gone. This act of remembrance and compassion is a beautiful sentiment, but it’s not always easy to find the right grave. With that in mind, how do you find a grave in Massachusetts for free?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Massachusetts?
- Massachusetts-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
- Steps for Finding a Grave in Massachusetts for Free
Though you might spend years looking through ancestry records, there’s more to this process than learning how to find out if someone died. Genealogy sometimes resembles a puzzle—though there might be many pieces to put together, it’s important to understand what resources are at your disposal.
In this guide, we’ll share how to find a grave in Massachusetts for free. We’re living in the golden age of ancestry and technology. This means it’s never been easier to find graves, no matter how long-lost they might be. Keep reading for this comprehensive step-by-step guide specific to Massachusetts.
What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Massachusetts?
While you might be tempted to try to find a grave in Massachusetts right away, it pays to be prepared. The more information you have, the easier it becomes to find the grave you’re looking for. While it might be difficult to find some of this information, consider how you can research your own genealogy in the process. Luckily, there are a number of free ancestry tools at your disposal.
What information do you need to find a grave? Start with these:
- Full name of the deceased
- Maiden name of the deceased (if applicable)
- Birthdate of the deceased
- Death date of the deceased
- Place of death
All of this information above is the bare minimum, but you might be able to locate a grave with less. It depends on how long ago the person died, how common the name is, and your county’s record-keeping practices. If you have any of the following, it becomes even easier:
- Funeral home
- Death certificate
- Cemetery name
As explained above, the more information you have, the better. You can discover this information by looking through family records, talking to loved ones, and doing your own local research. Keep reading to find Massachusetts-specific tips for finding the grave you’re looking for.
Massachusetts-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
We’re living in the digital age, and this means it’s never been easier to find what you’re looking for online or in person. There are a number of genealogical tools that are specific to Massachusetts, and these are a great first step. If you need help finding a grave in Massachusetts, start with this curated list below.
Find a Grave
One of the most well-known resources for finding graves is Find a Grave. This online resource compiles cemetery information for famous graves as well as local graves. In Massachusetts, you can explore graves by country. While you’ll need to know the cemetery name, this is a great option for limiting your search.
Family Search is another place to find information about graves and cemeteries in specific states. Their Massachusetts Cemeteries page has online resources, library resources, and other tips for finding genealogical information in the state of Massachusetts specifically.
Next, Interment is an online cemetery resource that compiles cemetery records online. You can browse cemeteries by county, city, or recent records. These records begin in 1960 and span to the present day, and you can also explore funeral notices. You can search by name, location, and more, making Interment a great tool.
Massachusetts Cemetery Directory
Though simple, this professional document search tool is geared specifically for Massachusetts. Online since 1997, this website has served family genealogists, historians, lawyers, and more for over two decades. While they specialize in searching for 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century records, you can search for any events that took place within the state of Massachusetts.
Catholic Cemetery Records
For those looking for Catholic cemetery records specifically, the Archdiocese of Boston created a page specifically through American Ancestors. This resource plans to include an estimated one million names by the end of 2021. Spanning the years 1833 through 1940, this is a compelling resource for Catholic burials in Massachusetts.
Another public record search tool is Cemetery Find. This record management website allows users to search burial records by state, county, cemetery, name, and more. While you’ll need specific information to begin your search, you can also browse interments by cemetery.
Massachusetts Public Records
Lastly, you might need access to public records to begin your search. These are available through the Massachusetts Public Records office. You can apply for a death certificate and other key records that could help you locate someone’s grave. Applying is simple and can be done online.
Steps for Finding a Grave in Massachusetts for Free
If you’re ready to find a grave, you might not be sure what steps to take. This isn’t a process most people do frequently, if at all, so it’s not always clear. In this guide, we’ll share the steps for finding a grave in Massachusetts for free.
1. Gather key information
First, you need to gather the right information. This means looking for everything you need above, including the deceased person’s full name, death date, and place of death. There are a lot of places to find this information. You might:
- Search ancestry websites online
- Talk to loved ones
- Request a death certificate
- Lead an internet search
- Review family Bibles for information
- Explore funeral programs
Once you’ve gathered all the necessary information, continue to the next step. The more information you have, the simpler the process will be. The ways people memorialized the dead and kept records over time have changed, especially since pre-19th century times. This means you might have to do more research for older graves.
2. Conduct your search
Next, it’s time to start your search. You can do this online through an internet search or genealogy website. This can be really successful, especially for more recent deaths. In some cases, you might have to dive deeper to find more obscure records.
One option is to contact funeral homes that were in business during the time of death. They might have ancestry records, and this can be faster than an online search. Similarly, you can contact the county clerk’s office directly to talk about vital records. In most cases, you need to be related to the deceased to request these relatives.
3. Locate the cemetery
Once your research is underway, you should be able to locate the cemetery. If the person was cremated (vs. buried), it likely won’t be possible to find the urn. Though some urns are kept in cemeteries or mausoleums, this has only recently become commonplace.
In addition, some cemeteries are small and difficult to find online. In this case, contact the cemetery directly and ask about the specific grave. Some cemeteries might be under new management or caretakers, so don’t be dissuaded if you have to call multiple people.
4. Find the grave within the cemetery
One of the last steps is to find the grave within your specified cemetery. Most cemeteries are large, and it can be difficult to find the plot you’re looking for. Luckily, it’s easy to learn how to find a grave in a cemetery. Graves are typically organized by plots engraved on the side of the headstone.
These are usually numerical or by the last name, so you can easily locate the grave if you can find a map. These maps are often online, especially if the cemetery has an active website.
Alternatively, you can always ask a cemetery caretaker for directions.
5. Plan your trip to the grave
Last but not least, plan your trip to your ancestor’s grave. If you’re wondering what to leave at a grave, you have a lot of options. You could leave any of the following to honor your loved one:
- Holiday decorations
- Family photos
- Religious symbols
In some cultures, it’s common to visit graves, bring offerings, and light candles. No matter what’s meaningful to you, this is a great opportunity to connect with your family line. Additionally, if the grave is older, you might wish to clean it using proper gravesite cleaning materials.
Most importantly, always check with the cemetery’s rules before bringing anything to the grave. Many have limitations as to what you can bring or how long decorations can be displayed. Finally, record the location of the grave so your family can visit again in the future.
Honor Forgotten Graves in Massachusetts
Taking the time to visit a loved one’s grave when they’re gone is an act of remembrance. Though this can take effort, especially for older graves, it’s an important way to tell your family’s story. Luckily, there has never been a better time to find key information about vital records, deaths, and gravesites.
Using the guide above, find the grave you’re looking for in Massachusetts. There is an entire world of ancestry to discover with a bit of care. Are you ready to take this first step back in time?