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

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Are you an amateur historian, family history sleuth, or the one trying to find the roots of your family tree? If so, then you might want to find a loved one’s or relative’s grave at some point. Finding a grave can be an exciting process but one that definitely has its challenges.

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While much of life has been made simpler by “Googling,” finding a grave is not typically that easy. You’ll probably find that you can’t type your relative’s name in a grave finder search engine and instantly find it. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, with a few tips, tricks, and resources, you might be standing in front of your relative’s grave before you know it.

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

Although it can be tempting to pull up your favorite search engine and enter your relative’s name, doing so will produce thousands of results for people that share the same name as your ancestor. Instead, it’s a good idea to gather information about your loved one so you’re ready with a few key facts on hand. Info you’ll want about your relative includes:

  • First, middle, and last name
  • Maiden name if married
  • Alternate spellings
  • Name of spouse
  • Name of children
  • Birthdate
  • Death date
  • County/city where they died
  • Cemetery where they were buried

You may not have all of these pieces of information, and that’s okay. The more you can find, however, the better. If you’re already aware of which cemetery they were buried in, your search will undoubtedly go much faster, and all you’ll need to do is visit the cemetery and search through their records.

If you’re starting from scratch and you only have a vague idea that they were buried somewhere in South Carolina, then the above information should prove incredibly helpful. Here are a few notes about names, dates, and personal information before we get started.


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First, middle, and last names

To search for a grave, you’ll need at least a first or last name. Most search engines will let you search with either one to get started, but some will require a minimum of a last name. In addition to their first and last, you should have their middle on hand to narrow down search results. 

In addition to their formal name, you should also find if they used any nicknames or alternate spellings. Nicknames are often used on gravestones instead of full formal names, so if you are aware of any, keep them handy for your search.

The name of their spouse or spouses and children are also helpful to narrow search results. Adding these names to search parameters can help if you’re unable to locate a specific grave and need to search for a family plot, instead.

Keep in mind, the more information you enter, the better results you’ll find. You may not get as many results, but the ones you get will likely provide you with information for your relative instead of other people who share their name but are no relation.

Birth and death dates

Birth and death dates for your relative are also extremely helpful when searching for their gravesite. If you don’t have much other information, then dates can be just as helpful as the names of their spouse or children.

Linking a specific birth or death date to the name of your relative will ensure that only people who share the same name and birth or death date will get pulled up. The likelihood of people sharing a name and birth or death date is pretty slim, all but guaranteeing that the search results should be related to your relative.

Even if you only have an “about” birth or death date, it can help narrow down results. Entering your loved one’s name with an “about 1854” for their birth date and “about 1901” for their death date will reduce search results to all the people with your relative’s name who lived between 1854 and 1901.

Location of death

The location of a person’s death can tell you a lot about the proximity of where they might be buried. Cremation wasn’t a popular final disposition choice until the mid to late 1900s. Moving a body across state and county lines was also an expensive prospect. As a result, most people were buried near the location where they died.

If you know the county where they died, cemeteries in that county are a fantastic place to start looking for records of your loved one. You can also check with the county’s vital records or archives to see if you can find their death certificate. If you do, then you can be pretty certain that they’re buried nearby.

South Carolina-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave

Thanks to the growing interest in genealogy, there are plenty of free or mostly free online resources that can help with your grave search. Most of these are geared toward helping you find a grave in a cemetery, but some can also assist you with a search if you’re trying to find out if someone died.

The Tombstone Transcription Project

The transcription project is part of the USGenWeb project which aims to provide free online genealogical resources. The transcription project is volunteer-led and run, and has a large database of transcribed tombstones from cemeteries across South Carolina. 

To search through the database, you’ll need to choose a county and then a cemetery. Once you choose a cemetery, all transcriptions are available on a single page, and searching for your relative’s name is as simple as pressing Ctrl+F and entering it. If their name is on the page, it will be highlighted.

This resource works well if you have an idea of where your relative is buried and you don’t mind doing some old-fashioned searching through transcribed texts.


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Find a Grave

Find a Grave is an excellent free online database that contains over 190 million records. You can narrow your results with advanced search options including alternate names, names of a spouse and children, location, and more.

If you think your loved one is buried somewhere in South Carolina but that’s all you know, then this is a great place to start searching for their grave.

Interment

Interment is an online resource database that provides searchers with the ability to look up a person’s record across multiple online resources at one time. Search results will contain links to original documents for further inspection.

The only downside to Interment is that resources are sometimes linked to online resources that require a paid membership for access.

Military Grave Locator

The Military Grave Locator is run by the Department for Veterans Affairs and contains thousands of records for service members buried in national, state, and private cemeteries. You’ll need a minimum of a person’s last name to begin a search and you can refine results by entering their first name, birth date, and death date into the search parameters. 

Records are updated daily and results will show the person’s name, rank at time of death, military involvement, cemetery, cemetery address, and plot number if available.

Steps for Finding a Grave in South Carolina for Free

Are you ready to take the tips and resources we’ve provided and start searching? Here are the steps to take.

1. Gather information about your relative

Before you start searching, compile key info about the person whose grave you want to find. This includes the information mentioned in the first part of this article including their full name, alternate spellings, names of their spouse and children, birth and death dates, and place of death. 

If you’re unsure of where to find this info, try searching for their vital documents such as birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, military documents, immigration documents, and land deeds or property titles. These documents often have key pieces of information you need for your search.

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2. Start your online search

Choose one of the resources above that best matches the amount of info you have on hand and begin your search. Try to enter as much information as you can into the search parameters so you receive results for your relative, instead of results for people who share your relative’s name.

3. Search for records in person

If you can’t find much online, consider going in-person to local county archives and library archives to search through microfilmed archives. If you aren’t sure which county archives to begin searching, then start with The South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina or The South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

These archives contain thousands of death certificates, birth certificates, marriage certificates, military records, land deeds and property titles, newspapers and obituary notices, and other documents that can help you with the search for your relative’s grave.

4. Visit the cemetery and grave

Once you’ve located your relative’s grave, it’s time for a visit. Print out a map or upload the GPS coordinates to your smartphone so you’re ready to navigate to the gravesite. When you arrive, be sure to document your findings, including the location of the grave, any special landmarks that identify the location, and GPS coordinates. Take plenty of pictures of the gravestone and the surrounding area, as well.

Finally, before you leave, consider placing a flower or other item you’re approved to leave at a grave to honor your ancestor or loved one’s memory.

Finding a Relative’s Grave

Searching and finding a relative’s grave may not be as simple as it first sounds. When you have the right tools and resources, however, you can dramatically increase the chances of getting a good result. If you don’t succeed right away, don’t give up. Determination and persistence typically pay off!

If you're a South Carolina 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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