It is normal for families to pack a lunch, bring a flowerpot and gardening tools, and drive down to the cemetery to visit the grave of a loved one. They may plan to spend a good portion of the day. In most cases, people know where the person is buried without section and lot numbers. They just wind to the left and turn right at the tree. It’s four rows in and six graves over. Easy. They go every Mother’s Day or Memorial Day, plus the loved one’s birthday, or maybe on the anniversary of their death. They go several times a year, so they know where they are going. But they usually only go to the grave ite of their late spouse, parents or son or daughter.
Then there are the genealogists. We, too, visit the graves of our immediate family etc. but in the interest of finding information for our research, we also need to visit the grave of old ZiZi Mariann’. She was our Nonna’s much-older sister who died when we were little. In fact, we barely remember her except as a really old lady with a bun in the back and a gold tooth in the middle. Now that we are researching the family tree, we are looking for all the brothers and sisters of our grandparents and we have come to ZiZi Mariann’, among others. In fact, there can be dozens of different relatives that we need more information on, and one place to look is the cemetery.
Unlike visiting the immediate family, we barely know these people. Some may have even died before we were born. So the sentimental attachment is not there even though these are family members. We probably don’t plan to spend a day with ZiZi. In addition, they might not be buried near where you live now. So it might take an hour to get to the cemetery, and maybe ten minutes to find the grave. Ok, I found it. Say a Hail Mary and now what; an hour back home? That doesn’t sound very practical.
When you’re just getting started, and you have found a bunch of relatives you barely knew you had, it might be time to plan a day-long trip to the cemeteries. Plural? Sure. There might be several. Not everybody is buried in Hillside, contrary to popular belief!
But don’t just wake up one morning and decide to do a cemetery trip. You need to plan. It may sound obvious, but you need to know which cemeteries your relatives are buried in. You also need to know where they are within that cemetery. You can get the name of the cemetery from several places. The funeral home cards are a place to start. If you know a relative who saved them, you need to ask if you can look at them. Funeral cards often have the full date of birth and date of death, and sometimes the cemetery name and even the grave location. It’s the same kind of information you hope to find at the cemetery itself.
Another place to look for the cemetery name is the newspaper death notice. But not everyone places a death notice, and many death notices these days say “Interment private”. The immediate family doesn’t want to put everyone through watching the casket lowered into the ground. But ten or twenty years later, we look up the death notice and it doesn’t mention the cemetery name. It’s quite frustrating.
So we found the death notice and it neglected to mention the cemetery name. Now what? Well, first, let’s hope your relatives were buried in Cook County or Lake County, and that they were Catholic. Why? Their burial locations will be in the Catholic Cemetery computer kiosks.
I have mentioned in many columns how valuable it is to find burial locations at these kiosks. If you are not sure what cemetery ZiZi Mariann’ is buried in, you can look it up at any of the kiosks. You don’t have to drive to all the cemeteries and check each one. You need to find the larger Catholic cemetery closest to where you live so you can check that kiosk and either write down or print the locations. (Not every kiosk has a printer, but you can display the location on the screen. Take a picture of the screen with your cell phone if you want!) You can find which cemeteries have the kiosks at http://www.catholiccemeterieschicago.org/selfServeKiosks.php.
Each kiosk has a touch screen. You can type in only the last name and press “Search”. The screen will show the people with that last name. You will see a list of last name, first name, age at death, and the burial date. So you need a rough clue when ZiZi Mariann’ died and how old she was. You also need to know her full real name, and how to spell it. Her sons were Matteo Crudele and Giuseppe Crudele, so her name must have been Marianna Crudele. She died when I was about 6 or 7 and I guess she was about 80, even if she looked 300!. So I look at the screen. I have to press “scroll down” to get to Marianna Crudele and I find 4 of them. The first one died in 1930. The second one died in 2008. The third one died in 1972, but aged 55. Hmm. Ok the fourth one died in 1974 aged 84. I think that one is the winner. Now I click on that record and then click “Display”. It shows she’s at Queen of Heaven, QAS Chapel, Tier 2, Crypt 1070.
Hmm, that’s not a section number or lot number. When you see a crypt number, the person is in a mausoleum or niche. The tier number or letter is just how high they are in the wall. Tier 0 or 1 is at the floor, and Tier 6 or 7 is way up high. But keep in mind that each cemetery may have more than one community mausoleum. You may need to stop at the office to find out where the QAS Chapel is.
If ZiZi is buried in a regular grave, you will see a section number. Sometimes you will see a block number, which is just a row number within a section. Then you will see a lot number, and lastly a grave number. You don’t really need the grave number. Once you find the lot, you’re there. But how do you find it? The best way is with a section map. I don’t mean those little maps of the entire cemetery. I mean a map of just that section.
The kiosks with printers can print a page with the details, including a small map of the cemetery and, if you’re lucky, a map of the section you just found. These maps are pretty small but if you look closely, you can see really tiny numbers, which are the lot numbers. There are slightly larger numbers which are the block numbers. Not every section is subdivided into blocks.
For many sections, there is no map that will print from the kiosks. You’ll get a printout that says “Sorry but this map is not available” so you will have to go to the cemetery office and ask them for help.
So the simple plan is:
1.Decide which relatives whose graves you would like to visit. (You don’t have to eventually visit them all. Just start with a list.)
2.Go to one of the larger Catholic Cemeteries to look up the grave locations. If they are not in the kiosks, you’ll need to call the cemetery and ask where the person is buried or entombed.
3.Fill the gas tank of your car and wait for the weather to cooperate.
Next month, I’ll discuss some important tips for the actual cemetery visit.
If you have any questions, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line. Have fun!