Book Review: Your Guide to Cemetery Research, Sharon DeBartolo Carmack (2002)

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

Great Guide for Genealogists & Graveyard Enthusiasts Alike!

five out of five stars

Let me begin by saying that I’m by no means a genealogist (not even an amateur genealogist!). In fact, I’m not even all that interested in my family’s history. Rather, I’m just someone who loves snooping around cemeteries, the older and more obscure, the better. This is the first genealogy/cemetery research book I’ve read, so I can’t really compare it to any others.

That said…”Your Guide to Cemetery Research” is a valuable tool for genealogists and graveyard enthusiasts alike. Sharon DeBartolo Carmack begins by explaining how to locate your ancestor’s vital records, including death certificates, obituaries, death notices, wills and probate, prayer and memorial cards, and mortality schedules. She then illustrates how you can use this information to find out where your ancestors are buried (and also tells you how to go about locating the cemetery itself). She describes the different types of cemeteries, as well as what sort of records they may have kept. The reader will also learn how to search a cemetery for the desired grave or plot, and how to read, record, and interpret the information on and around the marker. Especially interesting is her discussion on how the aggregate information in the graveyard can give you a picture of what the community was like when your ancestors were alive.

DeBartolo Carmack provides tons of helpful, hands-on, how-to advice for use inside the graveyard. She explains how to make a rubbing or cast of the tombstone, and offers ideas for different types of crafts to get the whole family interested (reunions in cemeteries, cemetery scrapbooks, and cemetery quilts, to name but a few). Her section on photographing markers and tombstones is particularly enlightening. Additionally, she offers tips for those wishing to undertake cemetery preservation or transcription projects.

She includes a few chapters on funerary customs throughout time and across cultures as well, but I thought these chapters were the weakest; they struck me as somewhat superficial and out-of-place. Then again, funerary customs is a topic I’ve done extensive research on; maybe newbies will find it more helpful or informative.

Perhaps my favorite part of “Your Guide to Cemetery Research” are the appendices, which include a lengthy list of gravestone artwork/symbols and their meanings; a time line of deadly epidemics and disasters in the U.S.; and a sample cemetery transcription form. The next time I go strolling through a graveyard, I’ll be sure to have this guide in tow. It increased my understanding and appreciation of graveyard art exponentially. Instead of just admiring the aesthetic aspects of the markers, now I can use “Your Guide to Cemetery Research” to interpret the inscriptions and artwork. [“What’s that over there? A child’s headstone, with a lamb lying down? Let’s see, we’re in New Orleans, and the death date is 1878, so perhaps the baby died of yellow fever!”]

Above all else, it’s reassuring to find that I’m not alone in my cemetery addiction. DeBartolo Carmack takes her family along on graveyard picnics, so I guess my fiancĂ© doesn’t have it all THAT bad!

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)