How to Find a Grave in South Dakota for Free: Step-By-Step

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Whether you’re searching for family history, helping your child complete a genealogy project, or you found a long-lost relative after taking a DNA test, you might want to visit a relative’s grave. Though you’ll need to do some detective work, the ability to research and find locations of people’s graves has been made much easier thanks to the growing popularity of ancestry research.

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With the right information, a few tips, and a trick or two to help you with the search, you might just find yourself standing in front of a long-lost relative’s grave before you know it.

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

Before you get started with your online or in-person search for a relative’s grave, it’s a good idea to collect some information about them. This includes a few pieces of information you likely expect, and others that might be a surprise. We suggest having the following on hand:

  • Their full name
  • Their maiden and married last name (for women)
  • Their birthdate
  • Their death date
  • The location of their death
  • Their spouse’s name
  • Their children’s names

You might not be able to find all of these pieces of information, and that’s OK. The more you can gather, however, the better you can refine your search results. 

South Dakota-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave

Thanks to the explosion of online genealogy websites, there are plenty of resources to choose from when searching for a grave. These resources will help you find a grave in a cemetery and many can even help you find out if someone died.

South Dakota Gravestone Photo Project

The South Dakota Gravestone Photo Project is a volunteer-run project whose goal is to take pictures of every grave in South Dakota. The pictures are then recorded, information on the gravestone is transcribed, and the information is uploaded to a searchable online database. There are currently over 250,000 searchable records with more added each week. 

The database is searchable with just a first or a last name, and you can specify which county or cemetery you want to look through. Some search results also contain plot numbers in addition to cemetery information.

South Dakota Cemetery Record Search

This cemetery record search is run and maintained by the South Dakota State Historical Society. Though the website mentions that their database does not contain a complete listing of all burials in South Dakota, it does contain thousands from across the state.

The database contains records gathered as part of the pre-1940 Works Progress Administration cemetery project in addition to records submitted to the historical society by volunteers and others since then.

If you’re sure your loved one died in South Dakota but you’re not sure where to start, this could be a good resource to begin your search.

Find a Grave

Find a Grave is one of the best cemetery search tools on the internet. The database contains over 190 million records worldwide, and more records are added daily. 

The advanced search options on Find a Grave allow you to get quite specific, and you can enter alternative names, varied spellings, the names of a spouse or children, and location info.

Since there are so many records, it’s a good idea to use this tool if you have a significant amount of information about your relative. The less information you have to enter into the search parameters, the more search results you’ll receive. While this might work with some databases, you’ll likely find yourself overwhelmed with an overabundance of results that have nothing to do with your relative. 

Military Grave Locator

Though not solely for South Dakota, if your loved one or relative was a veteran buried in a military cemetery, the Military Grave Locator is a good place to start. The database has records for those buried in national, state, and other veterans cemeteries. Veteran burials in private cemeteries are also in the database, as long as the gravesite was marked with a government-issued grave marker.

You’ll need a minimum of a last name to begin your search. You can also enter the first name, birth date, and death date into the search parameters. Results include the cemetery name and address, information about the person’s service record, and site or plot numbers when available.

» MORE: Need help with funeral costs? Create a free online memorial to gather donations.

Interment

Interment is a popular website that provides users with the ability to search for a relative’s records from multiple online sources at one time. The benefit to using Interment is that you can perform a fairly thorough search relatively fast. The downside is that some of the records and results are linked to websites that require a paid membership for access.

LDS Genealogy

This website is another search engine that combines records found across the internet. Despite its name, the website contains links to over 1 million records for people from around the United States, not just those of the Latter Day Saints congregation.

Many of the resources on this website will link to historical documents that can help you with your grave search. It may not link to cemetery documents, for example, but it can link to death certificates, birth certificates, immigration records, military records, church directories, newspapers, and obituaries. Any of these documents can provide key information that can eventually lead you to a relative’s grave.

While this website does have connections all over the web, be prepared that some of the links will route you to ancestry and genealogical databases that require a paid membership to view the document.

Steps for Finding a Grave in South Dakota for Free

Are you ready to go on the hunt for your relative’s grave? Follow the steps below to get started.

1. Gather personal information

Before you choose a resource and start looking for your relative’s grave, you’ll want to gather personal information including their name and birth and death dates. The more information you have, the better, so try to find their spouse’s name, names of children, and the area where they died.

If you search through popular ancestry websites for this information, check for documents like:

  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Immigration records
  • Military enlistment records
  • Land deeds and property titles

Even one of those records could provide you with a key piece of information that helps you locate the grave of your relative.

2. Start searching online

Once you’ve collected your relative’s personal information, it’s time to start your online search. Pick any of the resources mentioned above and begin your search. Look through the search results to cross off any results that don’t belong to your relative and check promising leads with the information you have on hand.

If you can’t seem to find any results, try searching for their name in several different ways, using nicknames, maiden names (for married women), and alternate spellings. Many times people who used a nickname in life also had that written on their gravestone. For example, you could search for Bethany Alice Walters who went by Betty during her life in the following ways:

  • Bethany Alice Walters (full married name)
  • Betty Alice Walters (nickname and married name)
  • Betty A. Walters (nickname, initial, and married name)
  • Bethany Alice Jordan (maiden name)
  • Betty Alice Jordan (nickname and maiden name)

You get the idea. Combinations can feel rather endless, so work your way through them one by one, crossing them off as you go.

If you run into a dead-end and can’t find any information on your relative’s grave, consider hitting pause on your search. Try again in a few months and again a few months after that. New information is added to databases all the time, so you never know what new records you might find.

» MORE: Honor a loved one with an online memorial. Create one for free with Cake.

2. Conduct in-person research

If you have an idea of where your relative was buried, consider visiting state and local archives. Archived records are often accessible on microfilm, but not online. Visit historical societies, libraries, and even cemeteries. These places often have thousands of archived birth and death records along with newspapers containing obituary notices.

3. Plan your visit

Once you have a clear idea of where your loved one is buried, plan for your visit. Print out maps of the area and the cemetery itself if it’s a large one. It could even be helpful to plot a course to the gravesite should you need to walk or hike a distance to get there. 

For graves that are only marked with coordinates, enter GPS coordinates into your smartphone or a GPS device so you’re guided directly to the correct spot when you get there.

4. Visit the gravesite

When you visit the gravesite, be sure to document and record your findings. Check the GPS coordinates and correct them, if need be. Record GPS coordinates for graves that are marked with traditional gravestones to preserve the location for future generations. Take pictures of the gravestone, the cemetery, and the surrounding area, and transcribe all of the text on the stone.

When you’re ready to leave, consider placing a flower or another item to honor your relative’s life. If the cemetery is operational or is a historical site, be sure to check with administrators or docents for a list of what you’re allowed to leave at a grave.

Honoring a Relative’s Place in Your Family Tree

Locating a loved one’s or long-lost relative’s grave can be a deeply personal experience. Not only can you honor your relative’s contribution to your family, but you can also enjoy a greater sense of connection to your roots. Finding the grave might not happen right away, but with some dedication and detective work, you might find it sooner than you think.

If you're a South Dakota 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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