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

Updated

There are a variety of reasons that someone may look for a grave in Montana. For example, you might wish to visit the burial site (or view the headstone) of a person to obtain closure or say goodbye. Others may want to find a grave in hopes of learning about the deceased. 

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Whatever your reasons, we would like to provide you with a few resources and processes to help you find a Montanna grave for free. 

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

The more information you have about the deceased, the easier it will be to find their grave. However, finding the answer to even the most basic information isn’t as cut and dried a process as you would think, especially if the person lived more than 100 years ago. 

Here’s the information you need and the pitfalls you might encounter while obtaining it. 

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Name

You might think that finding the name of the deceased would be a simple task. However, if you are trying to find an ancestor’s grave, the name you are using in your search might not match the name given to them at birth nor match the one found on their headstone.

The State of Montana began using birth certificates between 1907 and 1920. So, you might be able to find the official given name of the person if they were born in Montana after this era. Otherwise, you might have to rely on family, church, or census records to find the information you are seeking. However, there’s no guarantee that the person’s given name will be the one on the headstone. 

Knowing a person’s given name might help uncover their death certificate. Death certificates were required in Montana after 1907, and this document may assist you in finding the person’s burial spot.

But names are tricky. Many people use nicknames instead of their given names. To complicate matters, it was common practice for the same exact name to be used multiple times within the same family tree –sometimes within the same generation. Finally, of course, the name change that occurs after marriage also makes things tricky.

As you can see, figuring out the name engraved on a headstone (or recorded in cemetery records) may be more complicated than you first anticipated. For example, finding the tombstone of your great-great-grandma, who used her middle name as her first name and was married, widowed, and married again, may be a difficult task. 

Dates

Knowing the birth and death date (particularly the death date) may help you discover the grave you are seeking in Montana. Knowing these dates would be especially beneficial if the deceased had a common name for the area. For example, the death date may help you narrow down a list of John Smith’s headstones. 

Knowing the date of death (and a list of possible names) will enable you to search through obituaries and newspaper archives to find a public notice of the death. 

Location of death

Another helpful piece of information that may help you find a grave in Montana is the town or county where the death occurred. Before cremations became popular, people tended to be buried near their place of death. Moving the body would have been cost-prohibitive for a typical family. 

So, if you were able to uncover the death certificate (and the burial location isn’t listed), you might get a clue of what cemetery was used based on the site of death.  

Montana-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave

Perhaps after finding the deceased’s name, birth date, death date, and location of death, you no longer have a reason to see the grave. However, if you are still seeking closure or more information, here are some resources. 

Find a Grave

Find a Grave is one of the most popular websites people use to find a grave in Montana and the rest of the country. Find a Grave allows you to search for a person’s burial location utilizing the person’s name(s), the year they were born and died, and the place of the death. You can also add other names connected to the deceased, such as their parents, siblings, or children.

Volunteers submit the data found on this website. These individuals photograph the headstones and record the vital information they uncover. This means that you might be able to obtain a photograph of the monument without ever visiting Montana.

Billion Graves

Billion Graves is a similar website to Find a Grave. It works the same way – volunteers submit the data found on the website. Like Find a Grave, Billion Graves allows you to search using the deceased’s name, the approximate birthdate and death date, and the place of death. 

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Interment

Interment may help you find the records you need to locate the gravesite you are searching for, but some of those records might not be available for free. 

Interment provides you with links that enable you to search Montana newspapers, obituaries, and funeral notices. Some cemetery records are also available on the website, which can be searched for by county. 

Ancestry

If you are just getting started searching for your family’s genealogy, begin with Ancestry. This website may help you discover the place of burial and find photographs and other primary source documents that tell the life of the deceased. 

People who have common ancestors may have chosen to make their family tree on Ancestry public, which means you have access to their research. This information may include the burial information you are seeking.

Even if the burial site isn’t recorded on Ancestry, you might consider reaching out to those extended family members. They might have other information that they didn’t post on their tree, which would help you track down the burial site. 

Nationwide Gravesite Locator

If your ancestor served in the U.S. military, use this resource provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This database allows you to search for a National Cemetery graveside 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. 

Montana Historical Society

The Montana Historical Society is also an excellent resource for those looking for Montana burial information. If you can narrow your search to a specific county in Montana, you might also reach out to historical societies at that level.

Reasons You Can’t Find a Gravesite

Even if you have a lot of information about a person, there’s no guarantee that you will actually find their burial site. Here are some possible reasons that you were unsuccessful.

The person is still living

Check the birthdate of the person. If you can’t find any information on their death, could it be that the person is still alive? Learn more about how to find out if someone is still alive before you spend more time searching for a grave.

The cemetery records aren’t available 

Yes, many cemetery records are available online, and Find a Grave and Billion Graves volunteers continuously upload new information. However, perhaps the records you need are not yet public. 

The headstone is difficult or impossible to read

Unfortunately, if written cemetery records aren’t available and the headstone you are searching for has crumbled or deteriorated over time, you might never find the burial spot of your ancestor. 

Also, finding the burial spot for someone in rural Montana would be a different process than finding one in New Jersey. It was common for rural Americans to bury their loved ones on private land or in small, private cemeteries. But finding those burial sites may be extremely difficult if they are currently located on somebody’s ranch.

Steps for Finding a Grave in Montana for Free

Just because you can’t find the grave you are searching for online doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Here are some tips for people who aren’t ready to throw in the towel. 

1. Seek help from your extended family

You may no longer have parents or grandparents, but are any of your great aunts or uncles still alive? Find the oldest remaining person in your family and plan a visit or call. They might have the information you need – either in their memories or in their shoebox full of family documents. 

Consider recording the conversation with your extended family member. Once they are gone, all their knowledge about your extended family may be lost. 

2. Visit the Montana community where the person lived (and died)

If you aren’t from Montana, you might consider scheduling a trip to Big Sky country. Visit the community where the person lived or died and go to the historical society, library, local museums, and coffee shop. 

You might be able to connect with a local person passionate about history who might be able to help you with your search.

3. Visit the local cemeteries

Even though this suggestion appears last on the list, you might want to simply visit the cemetery closest to where the person died. The cemetery may have records to help you find the grave, or you might need to spend a few hours wandering the grounds and reading the names on headstones to find the one you need. 

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

Were you successful? If you are going to visit the gravesite, consider leaving a gift to honor the deceased.

If you're a Montana 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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