There are a number of reasons someone may wish to track down the location of a grave in New York despite not knowing much about how they may do so. For example, they might be writing a research paper on the life of some obscure historical figure who died a long time ago. Or perhaps they want to visit the grave of a lost ancestor.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in New York?
- New York-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
- Steps for Finding a Grave in New York for Free
There are several ways to go about finding a grave in New York State. Best of all, many of them don’t require spending any money. The overview will cover several noteworthy examples.
What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in New York?
It’s important to gather certain basic information before actively trying to find a grave. Doing so will make the overall process far easier.
Information to gather includes the following.
Basic identifying information
Naturally, you need to know the name of the individual whose grave you are looking for. It is also helpful if you have some information about their death, such as the area where they were living when they died, and, if possible, the approximate date of their passing. However, even without some of these details, it’s still possible to track down a grave.
Sometimes people choose to bury lost loved ones in cemeteries that serve members of their cultural community. An example would be a religious cemetery. Keep that in mind when beginning your search.
Military service information
Some types of cemeteries only serve those who participated in certain groups or activities when they were living. The most well-known example of this type of cemetery is a veterans cemetery. Thus, you may want to research whether the person whose grave you are seeking participated in the military or in another type of exclusive group.
Miscellaneous helpful details
These details are not required to help you find a person’s grave, but they can be helpful. Basically, consider any additional type of information or documentation you have about a person when searching for their grave. For example, if you’re searching for the grave of an ancestor, other family members might have old letters or similar items that can serve as helpful clues.
New York-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
Finding a grave in New York State is easier than ever, thanks to the abundance of resources currently available to you. Examples include:
The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library maintains an online database that can help you find the graves of individuals not only in New York State but almost anywhere in the country. There is no guarantee this tool will lead you to the grave you’re trying to find, but it’s worth trying.
Find a Grave
Find a Grave is another popular online tool that can potentially help you find a grave. The tool’s New York section allows you to search for a grave by county, so it does help if you have an idea of which part of the state someone may have been living in when they died.
As the name implies, this website specifically focuses on cataloging death and burial information for people whose graves are in New York State. Its creators have focused on gathering information from various general grave search websites to develop a comprehensive resource for those specifically looking for New York graves. However, it is another one that’s easier to use if you think you know which county to search in.
The New York section of FamilySearch, an ancestry website, is essentially more of a wiki than a search tool itself. It provides users with a list of various other resources and search tools they can use to help them find a grave they’re looking for based on which part of the country they are focusing on.
New York State Department of Health
The New York State Department of Health allows users to order copies of such documents as death certificates online. A death certificate may not necessarily tell you precisely where to find someone’s grave. However, it can provide you with valuable information such as when they died and where they were living at the time of their death.
You’ll have to provide some information about the individual in question and why you are seeking their death certificate, and you may have to wait to access your copy, but this is nevertheless an option to keep in mind.
Again, the person whose grave you are looking for may have participated in certain exclusive groups, such as professional organizations or alumni associations. These types of groups often release publications designed to let members know what other members are doing with their lives. They tend to include information about the deaths of members.
Consider if the person whose grave you are seeking belonged to any such groups. If they did, reach out to learn if they have old copies of such publications.
Public libraries and historical societies
The New York Public Library is not the only library that may contain archives of obituaries and similar documents. If you have a general idea of the region of New York where someone’s grave may be, reach out to libraries in that region to ask if they have such archives.
Along with libraries, you may also consider reaching out to local historical societies. This is particularly true if you’re searching for the grave of someone who you believe died quite some time ago. A historical society might also have a helpful archives room.
Steps for Finding a Grave in New York for Free
The process of finding a grave in New York may seem overwhelming. However, it can be much easier if you break it down into steps. They include:
1. Search for the obituary online
Finding someone’s grave does not necessarily have to be a lengthy process. This is because many obituaries are available online now. This is true even of obituaries for people who died before the Internet age in some cases. Sometimes publications like newspapers keep digital archives of decades-old issues.
Search for the obituary of the person whose grave you are looking for. If you find their obituary, it will likely mention the cemetery where their burial took place. The last step in the list will explain how you can then narrow down the exact location of their grave in that particular cemetery.
Pro tip: Googling for someone’s obituary is also a helpful way to find out if someone died at all.
2. Gather basic information
If you can’t find someone’s obituary online, your next step is to gather as much of the essential information about their life and death as you can. This will increase your odds of finding their grave when you perform the next step in this process.
3. Use research tools
The various tools and resources in the previous section of this blog can potentially help you find a grave. Consider using as many of them as possible to increase your chances of finding a grave in New York quickly.
4. Check the websites of cemeteries
You may now have narrowed down your list of potential burial sites to a few cemeteries without knowing for sure which is the right one. Now you can search for the websites of those cemeteries.
Often, cemetery websites now have tools that allow you to easily confirm whether they are home to particular graves. They might also have PDF maps to make finding the actual grave itself easier. For more information on this topic, check our guide on how to find a grave in a cemetery.
5. Contact the cemeteries
Even if a cemetery’s website doesn’t have a search tool, searching for the cemetery online will often provide you with its contact information. Email or call the cemetery and explain to management whose grave you are seeking and why. Someone will likely be able to let you know whether a certain person’s grave is there or not. If it is, they might also be able to help you track down the specific location within their cemetery.
You may now be ready to prepare for your actual visit to the grave you’ve been looking for. Depending on your reason for visiting, you may benefit from checking our guide on ideas for what to leave at a grave. Leaving the right item at a grave can be a symbolic gesture of respect that might give a sense of closure to your search.
Finding a Grave in New York State Can Be Easy and Inexpensive
Again, regardless of why you’re trying to find a grave in New York State, don’t worry if you think the process will be challenging or expensive. As this guide has hopefully taught you, finding a grave can be fairly easy if you take the time to do your research and to take advantage of the numerous tools and resources this overview has covered.