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

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Researching family history has become a favorite hobby of many these days. With the assistance of popular research sites like ancestry.com, generations of long-forgotten ancestors are getting placed back into family trees.

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Along with finding the names and birthplaces of ancestors, family history buffs appreciate locating the final resting place of their great-great-great-grandparents and other relatives. If you’re on the hunt for someone who passed long ago or even someone who died recently, read on for all the steps you need to take.

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

To find a grave in a cemetery in Missouri, you’ll need to gather as much information as possible about the person you’re searching for. This includes items like:

  • Their full name (including maiden name)
  • Alternative spellings of their name
  • State and county where they died
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Name(s) of spouse(s)
  • Name(s) of children

A note on name changes

One of the trickiest aspects of finding a grave for a relative from yesteryear is the spelling of names. When many people immigrated, they changed their last names to fit in with their new residence – America. Yahnnsen became Johnson. Klarvater became Clearwater. Werner became Verner. Lengthy last names were shortened. And the list goes on. 

Many changed their name by choice and, for others, it was simply written down incorrectly when spoken during the immigration process. Name changes are common on immigration documents through World War II. 

You might be dealing with numerous variations for first and last names. If you have a record of these variations, keep a list nearby while you search. If one name comes up empty, continue down through the spelling variations until you find the person you’re looking for. Also, when searching for female ancestors, keep spelling variations in mind for both their married names and their maiden names.

A note on birth dates

Birth dates for ancestors that go back pre-1900s can also be tricky. Some family records contain approximate birth dates while other records have no birth date at all. Do your best with this piece and search for multiple dates around the time of their estimated birth, if you have no other information.

Missouri-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave

If you know what to look for, there are plenty of resources available to help you find a grave in Missouri. Here are several of the best websites specifically for Missouri cemeteries, graveyards, and historical grave locations.

These resources can be used to find the grave of someone who died long ago or to find out if someone died recently, as well.

Missouri Gravestones

This state website is a phenomenal tool for researching family and state history. The goal of the site is to upload a photograph of every gravestone in Missouri to create a searchable database. There are already over 88,000 gravestone pictures on the site, and more photos are added daily. 

The site is already searchable and you need a minimum of information to get started. For a “simple search,” you’ll need at least the first initial of the person’s first and last name. Naturally, if you have the full name, you can enter that instead. If you know the county you need, that’s even better.

Eventually, the site will add the ability to look up headstones by cemetery through their “advanced search” option.

MOGenWeb

While this website isn’t exactly a grave finder, it can help provide critical information during your search for a relative or loved one’s grave. The Missouri GenWeb database contains a plethora of historical information such as wedding records, surname records, and the tombstone transcription project.

The tombstone transcription project is helpful if you think you’ve located your relative’s tombstone but you’re slightly unsure because of faded or hard-to-read engraving. This project was started to create a record of all tombstone engravings in the state of Missouri. 

Currently, you can search by county and cemetery, and you’ll see a transcribed list of all names and engravings for all the headstones in that specific cemetery.

Missouri Digital Heritage

The Missouri Digital Heritage page contains a wealth of information that could come in handy during your search for a loved one’s grave. One helpful page is their 1910-1970 death certificate records. You can search by first, middle, and last name as long as you have at least the first letter of any of those names.

The website also has a helpful search bar tool at the top. Powered by Google, if you type a name in, the website will pull up all records with that name in it. Why might this be helpful? Among other things, you can find death certificates, marriage records, birth records, and historical documentation such as military enlistments, bill-of-sale documents, deeds, and property titles. 

It can take many pieces of the puzzle to locate someone’s grave, and the information that this site contains can help you put the puzzle together.

Steps for Finding a Grave in Missouri for Free

Now that you have some helpful websites for your search, let’s walk through the process step-by-step.

1. Gather information

As we noted above, the more information you have about the person whose grave you want to find, the better. Compile all of this information so you have it on hand to reference during your searches. 

Chances are, you might come across supplementary documentation, such as a marriage certificate, that could help you locate other pieces of the puzzle, like a birth certificate. Add new pieces of information to your research as you find them.

2. Interview family members

If you’re searching for an ancestor your family knows little about, this step might not produce many results. However, if you ask around, you might find out that you’re not the only historian in your family. 

Ask family members if they have any information at all for the person you’re trying to locate. Even anecdotal information, such as when they “moved out West,” can provide helpful information to provide a timeline of their life and backtrack to a birth date if you don’t know it.

3. Start your online search

This is the part that will probably take the longest. There are many helpful online tools to search for graves in addition to the Missouri-focused websites mentioned earlier. Sites like ancestry.com, findagrave.com, and familysearch.org all contain large databases of cemetery records that could be helpful to you.

Start with one site and enter the information you’ve compiled. If nothing comes up, move on to the next site, and so on. Don’t get discouraged if your search comes up empty on one or two websites. Keep looking until you’ve exhausted all your options. If you still can’t find anything, pause your grave search, continue your family history research, and try again in a few months.

There is new information added to databases like Ancestry, Find a Grave, and the Missouri Gravestone project all the time. Just because you can’t find your loved one’s grave today doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find it six months from now.

4. Visit local resources

Depending on how successful your online search is, you might have been able to locate the cemetery and even the plot number. However, if you only located the cemetery, a trip to the county library could help provide information as to the exact location. 

Many libraries have archives of local information including death records and cemetery information. They might even have a map of the cemetery with information regarding who is buried there. This info might help you narrow down where in the cemetery your loved one’s grave is located.

If the cemetery has a museum, archives office, or digital records, check these places for plot location, as well.

5. Print or download the cemetery map

It’s one thing to find the plot, but another thing to locate it in person. If available, print out or download a map of the cemetery. Mark the plot location of your relative’s grave to make it easier to locate the grave when you go visit.

6. Use a GPS location device, if needed

Some grave plots only have a rock or very weathered headstone left behind to mark their location. Coordinates are sometimes used for historical cemeteries and cemeteries that have no official plotting system. If this is the case with your relative’s grave, you might find geographical coordinates, rather than a cemetery plot number.

To help you locate the exact spot of the grave, you can plug the GPS coordinates into a GPS tracker on your phone or another tracker like a Garmin.

7. Visit the cemetery

Once you’re ready, it’s time to visit the cemetery and locate your relative’s grave. If you’re visiting a historical cemetery, watch where you walk, as some graves are only marked by a rock or stone. Use your map or GPS tracker to help you locate your relative’s grave.

Once you find it, take some time to pay your respects. Then, take a picture of the grave and surrounding location for your records. Before you go, leave a flower or other appropriate item.

Locating a Loved One’s Grave

Finding a loved one’s or relative’s grave can bring a sense of closure, completeness, and even fulfillment. Connecting with our history helps us discover who we are, and finding the resting place of our ancestors plays a large part in that process. We hope the information provided in this article will give you the tools you need to find the grave of your loved one or long-lost ancestor.

If you're a Missouri 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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