How to locate your families within cemeteries

Like many people I wanted to locate my family within a cemetery. I was on a journey to uncover my family tree and the first place I went was the Brunswick Cemetery in Wanganui. Not many people spend time in cemeteries, and I didn’t really know where to start.

It was easy for me to locate my mother and I placed flowers on her headstone. After that, I walked around and simply did not recognise any headstones with my family name on them. Now days you can pre-plan your funerals and purchase areas for your family but in days past people were laid to rest in a different order.

I enjoyed the sunshine and the tranquility of the cemetery and the park like surroundings, but I want to go back and find the final resting place of other relatives.

How to locate your families within cemeteries?

Most councils have cemetery search within their websites. Here is the link to the HonourThem cemetery search features within their websites. Here you can place the name in the search bar and find the plot location details only. Next time you visit the cemetery you will be able to head straight to the headstone.

Their name Liveth for Evermore”

Modern Technology has a place in our cemeteries

Why is it so important to record cemetery information?

Our journey of remembrance took a different route to most. What began as a single idea, evolved into a desire to record and retain this wealth of information and memories of our Loved Ones.

Through the quiet work of cemetery guardians, the traditional cemetery has gradually transitioned into a calm, serene and ‘park-like’ place.  Unfortunately, some of our older cemeteries suffer the effects of weather and aging, resulting in the gradual loss of historical information and family connections.

As generations pass, so do many of the cherished memories of our Loved Ones.

While a major focus of HonourThem is to preserve and share these special memories of a Loved One, our first job was to record over 1200 cemeteries and urupās all throughout New Zealand.

Family holidays around Aotearoa have been interrupted by detours up side roads and extended journeys to remote locations – all to record many long-forgotten cemeteries and urupās.  We call this ‘indexing’ cemeteries. Over the last years, we have recorded and photographed many cemeteries and pulled this information together in a useful form.  

Perhaps the greatest joy from these detours is that some of New Zealand’s oldest cemeteries and urupās are in some of the most idyllic spots.  Through modern technology, locating the final resting place of a Loved One has become so much easier. We are proud to have the first stage of our Cemetery Directory available now.

So, how do you find a Loved One’s cemetery and headstone?

Search the HonourThem Cemetery Directory

The first step is to use our Cemetery Directory – which is a searchable list of New Zealand cemeteries. The community use this Directory to locate where cemeteries are and the address information.

Search the local council website

Once you know where the cemetery is, you can also search the local council’s website – this is often quicker than trying to walk through cemeteries. Faded inscriptions and general wear to headstones, can make this especially difficult.

Some council websites now provide plot location details and even GPS coordinates and a photo of the headstone. Uploading a photo and GPS coordinates helps immensely when recognisable features of the headstone are available.

Don’t forget to search the New Zealand War Graves Project!

In researching the final resting place of a great uncle killed in Northern France in the Great War, we uncovered the New Zealand War Graves Project website. This website records the details of more than 3000 cemeteries where our New Zealand service people are buried.

The website documents casualties from as far back as the 1899 Anglo-Boer war and lists many who returned to New Zealand, but sadly died of their wounds.

At the cemetery, find the cemetery map

A modern cemetery will have a map on display for all visitors. These can often provide clear instructions to find, for example, Returned Service Members or people of different religious faiths.

Ask at the cemetery office

Most large cemeteries have an office and a ‘sextant’, who will have computer records and paper records (or a very large book) with detailed plot information.

The sextants we have met through our travels are wonderful people, resolute in their dedication to their cemetery and always eager to assist.

Use time as a guide

If you are unable to find the location of your Loved One’s final resting place, but know their year of death, look for headstones of those who passed away at around the same time. While the ability to pre-purchase a final resting place is now more common, this forward planning was not so common two or three generations ago.  You will find that resting places have generally been grouped according to the time of passing.

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How to locate your families within cemeteries
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