Fall is often the best time for visiting cemeteries, especially for genealogists who live in colder climates. The colder air, or maybe even an early frost, will cause the vegetation to die back, making it easier to get around and find gravestones. The clear air and bright sunlight will also make it better to view the gravestones than in the haze and blaze of summer.
Here are five tips for making the most of a fall visit to a cemetery:
1) Wear sturdy shoes or boots
Winter and Spring are the most dangerous times to visit cemeteries due to icy and muddy conditions. Autumn brings sturdier, more solid footing. Even so, cemeteries are prone to having unexpected sink holes. Safeguard against tripping and falling by wearing your sturdiest pair of shoes or a pair of boots. Nothing will put a damper a cemetery visit like a sprained ankle!
2) Bring clippers and gloves
Even if the vegetation has died back from the cold, the stems and branches may still pose an obstacle between you and the gravestone you want to view. Often simply overgrown flowers can be a culprit in preventing the reading of text on a gravestone. Brings clippers along to cut back any vegetation that is blocking the stone of your ancestor and be sure to wear gloves to help prevent cuts to your hands. Be careful, though, not to scrape the gravestone with the clippers, especially if it is very old. Leave the gravestone in the same condition you found it, without any additional scratches or scrapes.
3) Keep your cell phone close by
While we don't like to think about it, sometimes accidents do happen in cemeteries. Headstones have been known to topple onto children and adults have broken their legs in muddy conditions or unsuspecting holes. Keep your cell phone handy and close to your body, particularly if you are alone. If you fall and get stuck you won't be able to reach for your bag where your cell phone is stored. Keep your phone instead in a shirt pocket or a fanny pack so that it will always be accessible in case of an emergency.
4) Photograph landscape views of the cemetery
When you find your ancestor's gravestone don't just photograph the individual gravestone. Take the time to photograph nearby gravestones, even if they don't have the same surnames as they could be family members. Also, take some panorama shots of the whole cemetery, starting on one side and slowly circling around to the other side. Not only will this give you great photos to remember what the cemetery looked like but you might get some really beautiful fall foliage shots as well!
5) Install the Billion Graves Mobile App
If you're a smart phone use be sure to install the Billion Graves Mobile App. While in the cemetery, take photos of your ancestors' gravestones and upload them immediately to the Billion Graves website. Volunteers will then transcribe the image you have uploaded, making it available to millions of people. You might be providing just the information needed to break down a distant cousin's brick wall!
Caption: A sample gravestone entry on the Billion Graves website.