Are you a budding genealogist, family historian, or history buff in the making? If so, you might want to go on a hunt for a loved one’s or long-lost relative’s grave. But finding a grave in New Jersey might not be as easy as it sounds.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in New Jersey?
- New Jersey-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
- Steps for Finding a Grave in New Jersey for Free
Many factors go into finding a grave including where the person died, when they died, and even who they might have been married to at the time. When you start your search, it might feel like you’ll never accomplish your objective. However, with a little know-how and the steps outlined in this article, we hope you’ll be able to hunt down your relative’s grave like a first-class detective.
What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in New Jersey?
To help make your search as successful as possible, you’ll want to gather a few key pieces of information. Naturally, the more information you have about a person, the easier it might be to find their information.
At a minimum, you’ll need to have a name to start searching with. This can be a first or last name, though it’s usually best if you have both. Even if you narrow your search to the state of New Jersey, there could be hundreds of listings with your relative's name. To narrow the results to your relative, we suggest having the following information on hand:
- Full name
- Name of spouse(s)
- Name of children
- Birth date
- Death date
- State, county, and/or city where they died
Two other items that could be handy to have are alternate spellings of their name and nicknames they used.
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New Jersey-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
There are plenty of resources available to help you find a relative’s grave these days. Here are some of the ones we love.
New Jersey Civil War Gravestones
The New Jersey Civil War Gravestones website is a volunteer-run project with the goal of photographing and transcribing every gravestone of those who fought in the Civil War and are buried in New Jersey.
Since many tombstones from the Civil War and later are deteriorating rapidly, volunteers are tasked with taking clear pictures and transcribing what is written on them. These pictures and transcriptions are then uploaded to the website and made into a searchable database.
You can search by a cemetery, by name, or by county. If you find a picture of your loved one’s gravestone, you can request a copy of it for personal use by emailing the site coordinator.
To date, there are over 17,000 photos in the database with more added every week.
The Tombstone Transcription Project
The Tombstone Transcription Project has a similar goal to the Civil War Gravestone website, only this website is focused on transcribing every tombstone in New Jersey, not just Civil War-related graves.
The database is only searchable by county and cemetery, so for this to be of help you’d need to know which county and cemetery your loved one was buried in. Once you select a county, you’ll see a list of all the cemeteries where transcription work has occurred. Click on a cemetery, and the entire list of transcribed tombstones will be available to read through.
Interment is an excellent site for searching multiple records at once. On the home page, you can enter your loved one’s name and information and search nationwide or by state. State pages have links to cemetery records, death records, and other helpful information. If you have some information about your relative but you’re lacking clear direction, this could be a good site to start with.
Find a Grave
Find a Grave is a clear winner whenever we’re talking about genealogy research. They have over 190 million grave records worldwide and over 4 million for New Jersey alone! You can search with a minimum of your loved one’s first or last name. Advanced search options are also available allowing you to search using alternate spellings, maiden names, spouse’s names, and children’s names.
If you know next to nothing about where your loved one is buried but you do have some of their personal information on hand, start searching here and you just might end up finding their grave.
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You’ll need to create an account to access this site, but Family Search is a genealogy website with tons of death and burial records. This could be a beneficial resource for those who want to find a grave and do some genealogical detective work all at the same time.
Ancestry is probably the most well-known genealogical research site on the web today. You can sign up for a free trial or subscribe to the paid version if you’re serious about digging up family history. They have thousands of death and burial records, and more get added daily.
If you want a single location where you can keep a clear, user-friendly record of your family’s genealogy, create a family tree, and pin all documents such as death certificates for members of your family, this is the site you want to use.
Military Grave Locator
The Military Grave Locator is run by the VA and serves to provide military families with a record of their loved one’s grave. Records go all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
You need a last name to start your search, and you can include search parameters including a first and middle name, date of birth, and date of death.
Steps for Finding a Grave in New Jersey for Free
1. Gather information about your relative
The first step is probably the most important since this is how you’ll narrow down search results as you look for their grave.
Popular genealogy sites such as Ancestry can help with this part of the puzzle. Search for birth records, death records, marriage records, land titles, deeds, immigration documents, and military documents that have their information recorded. Even one of these records can provide you with a wealth of information, such as their name, a spouse’s name, and their residence.
As you gather information, check for alternate spellings or nicknames you find in use and add that to your list of information, as well. These will come in handy when you start searching for your loved one’s grave.
2. Start your online search
Once you have your information together, start with one of the online resources mentioned above and work your way through their search results. If you receive no results or a parietal result, continue to the next search engine. If you get a full result, cross-check your findings with another search engine.
If you run into a dead-end and can’t find any results for your relative, try these tips:
Search using alternate names: People frequently use nicknames for their gravestones. Check any alternate names you find.
Search using maiden names: Women who were married and divorced sometimes reverted to using their maiden name.
Search using alternate spellings: If your loved one ever had alternate spellings used, check records using those.
Try birth year instead of exact date: Using a birth year is helpful if you don’t have their exact date and when their exact date doesn’t bring up any results.
Try death year instead of exact date: This might provide you with more search results than you’d otherwise have to look through.
3. Conduct local in-person research
There are still thousands of archived records that haven’t been uploaded to internet databases. Check local county archives, local city and county library archives, and even cemetery archives. Many cemeteries that are still in operation or those that have turned into historical locations have an archives center that you can search through in person.
4. Find the cemetery and locate the grave
If you find the cemetery, it could be helpful to locate the grave on a cemetery map or by using GPS coordinates before you arrive. This can provide helpful guidance once there so you can locate the grave without wandering the grounds for hours.
If the cemetery is fully functioning, ask the office for a map with the position of your loved one’s grave. If it’s now a historical cemetery, you might still request a map from the front office with general directions and information on those buried there. Historical maps might not contain your loved one’s grave location, but they might help you rule out gravesites by listing other occupants nearby.
5. Document your findings
Once you find your relative’s grave, be sure to document your findings for posterity. This includes making a new map, if needed, and recording the exact GPS coordinates of your loved one’s grave. You should also take pictures of the gravesite, the area around the gravesite, and make a note of any landmarks or directions needed to get to the grave.
Before you leave, consider honoring your relative by leaving a flower or other approved item at the grave. Most cemeteries have a list of what to leave at a grave that fits within their guidelines, so be sure to check with the cemetery before leaving anything behind.
Finding a Loved One’s Grave
By now you see that finding a relative’s grave might not be as cut and dry as you first thought. However, once you’ve gathered information about your relative and search using the steps and resources listed above, we hope you’ll meet with success!
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