Getting Started as a Cemeterist

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Welcome to the Cemeterist Project's Getting Started Guide!

One of the most common questions we get from new members is, "What exactly am I supposed to do as a Cemeterist?"

First things first, it is important to understand why we document cemeteries - Cemeteries are among the most valuable of historic resources. They can serve as reminders of various settlement patterns, or they can reveal information about historic events, religions, lifestyles, and genealogy. Unfortunately, these cemeteries do not necessarily remain permanent reminders of our ancestors and past since they are subject to long-term deterioration, neglect, development activities and construction projects, and even vandalism and theft. Through your membership in the Cemeterist Project, you are pledging to aid in the preservation of the world's cemeteries - serving as guardians of our history and heritage - by documenting cemeteries and gravestones and making that information freely available to the world through the use of high-quality, and sourced, profiles.

The good news is, the work of the Cemeterist is pretty simple, and typically involves two key areas:

  1. Ground Work
  2. Data Entry

Don't forget to check out the Cemeterist Members page to find other members in your area or Country to collaborate with!

Ground Work

The first step in photographing cemeteries and gravestones is building your toolkit, which starts before you ever leave home! If you are new to cemetery transcriptions, we suggest that you start as simple as possible. Start out with a notepad (or pre-printed forms), pencils (as many as you can carry!), and of course - your camera (even a modern (2015+) cellphone will work!).

If you need assistance, it is always best to reach out to other members who are working in (or familiar with) your area. This will also help with avoiding duplication of work!


  • If you plan to visit a managed cemetery (one which has an office or funeral home on site) it is advisable to contact them prior to arrival in order to get a copy of their cemetery policies.
  • If the cemetery is located on private land, contact the owner for permission to access the cemetery and be respectful of the property! In many rural areas, family cemeteries are located on farms or in pastures, so be sure to close any gates and keep on any dedicated lanes/roads.
  • If you plan to document an entire cemetery, you should invest the time in creating a map or a spreadsheet that will help in detailing the organization and location of graves. This will help to identify the areas of the cemetery you visit and have taken photographs in, or can help you identify your start and end points for pre-planned visits. While this is useful for larger cemeteries that you only visit from time to time, and will help serve as a way to track your progress, it may not be needed for smaller cemeteries that you can photograph in a day or two.

Once you are ready to begin, I suggest starting with a Cemetery Description Page that documents the cemetery name, location (address, GPS coordinates, or relative location [i.e., 240 paces southwest of the ranch home]), general layout and condition, and any historical notes on the property. If you are able, the inclusion of a picture of the cemetery entrance and name, and a map (even hand drawn or captured from Google Earth/Maps) can be of great help.

Next, you will want to plan your route through the cemetery. For larger cemeteries, you can work by rows or sections, and for smaller cemeteries with no formal layout, you can work from corner to corner. After you have identified your route, you can begin at your first gravestone.

Start by taking a few pictures of the gravestone. Then, using a notepad or Cemetery Log, begin by documenting the information as provided on the gravestone. This will include the Name (Surname and Given Name), Dates (Birth and Death / Age), Locations (if given), and any additional wording provided. You may also wish to document any other notes, such as the condition of the gravestone or any identifying or unusual symbols.


  • The number of pictures you take will depend on the type of gravestone you are working with and how comfortable you are with your images. One picture may be sufficient, or you may take multiple photos from different angles, or different sides, in order to make sure you have captured the gravestone well.
  • It is important to record the information on the gravestone exactly as shown, even if you can immediately identify errors! We will cover errors in gravestones in a later step.

Data Entry Operations

The next process is usually the longest, yet most rewarding - making the cemeteries and gravestones come alive!

Step 1: First we start by finding (or creating) our cemetery category:

  • If the cemetery category already exists, let make sure it is up to project standards, which means it is named correctly, contains a CategoryInfoBox Cemetery template, and has an accompanying space page. If everything looks good already, proceed to Step 2.
  • If the the cemetery category does not yet exist, or is not yet up to project standards, follow the steps outlined at: How to Categorize Cemeteries. Once this is complete, we can create the accompanying space page.

Step 2 Now, let's create or modify our first profile! Using the Add an Unrelated Person Form, lets type in our known information from the first male gravestone transcription in our Cemetery Log. It is important to choose a male, since females are often listed on their gravestones under their married name, not their last name at birth. As you type in the form, be sure to closely watch the profiles shown in Item #2 of the form in order to compare close matches that may already exist on WikiTree. If a match is displayed, do not create a new profile, instead, select the match and we can work on enhancing that profile (skip to Step 4); otherwise, proceed with Step 3.

Step 3: If no close matches are displayed, continue to Item #3 in the form and continue filling out any known information. At a very minimum, provide a short biography based on the known information, in the Notes: section, such as:

<PERSON NAME> was born <BIRTH DATE> and passed away <DEATH DATE>. <NAME> is interred at <CEMETERY> located in <CEMETERY LOCATION>.
In the Source(s) section, we will cite the cemetery photograph as the source, such as:
Monumental inscription. <CEMETERY NAME>, <CEMETERY LOCATION>. <DEATH DATE> (b. <BIRTH DATE>) <SURNAME>, <GIVEN NAME>. Photographed by: [[Wiki-ID|Name]]: taken <DATE PHOTO TAKEN>.
When we save the form, we should now have a profile that will display the basic information we know, such as:
John Doe was born 12 January 1895 and passed away 15 October 1946. John is interred at Cloverfield Cemetery located in Anytown, State.

<references />

*Monumental Inscription. Cloverfield Cemetery, Anytown, State. 15 October 1946 (b. 12 January 1895) DOE, John. Photographed by: Cemeteries WikiTree: taken 13 February, 2021.

Step 4: The next step is to upload our gravestone photo. Start by navigating to the Images tab on the profile, and select the link Do you have a photo or source image? Click here to upload it. Attach your image, provide a source description (monumental inscription) as we did in Step 3, and save.

Step 5: Last, but certainly not least, when working with any profile within the scope of the Cemeterist Project, it is requested that you add relevant categories (Birth and Death Locations) as well as the cemetery category - and also perform a search for Birth, Marriage, Census, or Death records (at a minimum) - this is part of our mission & goals! You can perform free searches on a number of sites, but the most popular site is FamilySearch.org. Based on your research, you can now do one of two things:

  1. If you are able to locate sources for the person, let's fill out that biography and add our sources! If you need assistance, ask the Profile Improvement Project for help!
  2. If you are unable to locate any sources, or have found sources that may or may not be correct, add a Research Notes section to the profile, just above the ==Sources== heading. Detail where you have looked for sources, what you found (or did not find) and any other relevant information for others who may come across the profile; such as possible mistakes on the gravestone (e.g., wrong dates, names, or locations).

For examples of profiles we are aiming to create, see: Category:Cemeterist Project Example Profiles.

Once we are done with our first profile, we can move to the next entry in our Cemetery Log! Great Job Cemeterist!

Note: If you do not wish to maintain the profile after creating it, please feel free to remove yourself from the profile. Just remember, leave the profile in the best possible manner that you can!

Example Forms


Comments: 21

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Thank you for the add. Six of my ancestors are buried in the Gaston First Baptist Church cemetery (South Carolina). I visited the cemetery many years ago and took some photos of their headstones. I would like to add this cemetery to the database since it is not included at present. The good news is that the cemetery has been recorded and a list of burials by row is included in files.usgwarchives.net/sc/lexington/cemeteries/gaston.txt. Is there a way to incorporate this listing into WikiTree without retyping everything? Plus, this is the work of someone else. Much appreciation for assistance.
posted by Susan Hector
Howdy team, cheers for the add!

I think something to add towards the bottom of the Ground Work section would be "check the back of the gravestone". Sometimes there are additional people or details on the back.

I would highly recommend adding a section about sun safety. Despite sprawling ad campaigns and public-funding into the issue since at least the '80s, people still don't think about their skin cancer risk. It's typically an afterthought. What you'll need: Wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, long sleeve clothing, sunglasses, plenty of water and shade, whether that's an umbrella or a shady spot to have a break.

Have a great holiday season and happy new year!

posted by Gaz Thomas
I'm late to the party with this comment, but having spent a good chunk of time at different rural cemeteries lately, and unknowingly having captured an apparently dead eastern brown snake in one photo, I would also say that a word regarding snake awareness would also be worthwhile. Some of the older parts of my local cemetery are like purpose-designed urban housing for snakes and many of the local heritage cemeteries are only minimally maintained with long grass and other plants concealing the ground.
posted by Gerard Newham
How do we know if a certain cemetery has been documented already? I don't want to waste time by working on a cemetery that has already been well documented and photographed.
posted by Lisa Sadlon
The best way to check for Cemetery Status is through the Cemetery Categories. You can drill down to the specific location you are working (or interested working in) and see what has been documented for each area.
posted by Steven Harris
Under step 2 above I think you meant to say "married name" rather than "maiden name." Also, I'm curious why you don't encourage people to check the findagrave or billiongraves websites to see if they are there as well. Links to those sites can be added to the Wikitree records, and the can help with difficult transcriptions as well.
posted by Bill Teschek
Good catch Bill, I changed "maiden" to "married".

RE: Find A Grave (and Billion Graves) Other sites are on a mission to “find, record and present final disposition information as a virtual cemetery experience.” One area they all fall short in is how their data is managed, confirmed, validated, and/or fact-checked. Many users have also turned these sites into number games; adding memorials based on newspaper obituaries or death notices before a burial even occurs, creating profiles that are devoid of any identifying images, providing incorrect burial locations, etc.

In the end, this virtual cemetery experience winds up placing more focus on the individual cemeteries themselves, rather than the individual people (and their associated ‘facts’) that make up those cemeteries. This leads to what many users would consider ‘Junk Genealogy’; consisting of incomplete, incorrect, or otherwise erroneous data where sources typically appear as an afterthought. This is evident by the amount of errors that can be seen across these sites, as well as the lack of checks and balances available to combat duplicates, and incorrect information.

So from a project standpoint, we encourage members to document their own findings and come to their own conclusions, based on facts and sources. We build cemeteries from the Profile up with a focus on sourcing and connecting to the larger tree.

posted by Steven Harris

Categories: Cemeterist Project