06 April 2013

Top Ten Tips for Searching for the Right NYC Cemetery

It's Spring and our thoughts turn to . . . cemeteries.

After about ten days of strong attachment to my computer, I finished my three backlog cemetery documentation projects (that had been staring at me longingly) and submitted them to JewishGen's Jewish Online Worldwide Burial Registry.[1] Interestingly, while my attention was diverted to my onerous tasks, the Jewish genealogy forums sponsored by JewishGen included discussions about cemetery research.

One question of interest was: How does one find where someone was buried in New York City?

Here's how I would handle it.

1. Check the online death certificate indices at ItalianGen or the German Genealogy Group.

In this case, the researcher had already tried searching the online database for New York City death certificates on ItalianGen to no avail. If one does find a death certificate, head to FamilySearch.org to locate the microfilm and acquire the record. Death certificates list the cemetery where the body was to be interred.

[UPDATE (24 April 2017): Since this post was published, FamilySearch has added their own indices of NYC vital recoreds. They indexed a great number of data items than the German or Italian Genealogy Groups. FamilySearch's death record index often includes the name of the cemetery.]

If one doesn't find a death certificate listed in the index, there are a number of possibilities including:
  • the indexers missed the record
  • the surname was spelled differently than expected (due to all the usual possibilities)
  • the person did not die in one of the boroughs of New York City

2. Check existing cemetery websites that have online grave locator indices. 

Right now, for New York area, the following cemeteries offer this service online:
  • Mount Carmel (index includes Knollwood Park and Hungarian Union Field)
  • Riverside Cemetery in Saddle Brook, New Jersey (check under Our Services an, then, Genealogy Search) [update, 22 May 2014: it looks like Riverside Cemetery has removed their search function. One may now request up to five look-ups via email.]
One may see a nice summary of the existing inventory of New York area Jewish cemeteries at the Museum of Family History. Check out the Cemetery Project Directory.  

3. Check online grave recording services such as Find A Grave, Internment.net and Billion Graves.

4. Query in the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry.

5. Check the fee-based service JewishData.com.

JewishData has online images of many tombstones from Jewish cemeteries throughout the United States and elsewhere. It's a little pricey at about $18 for three months. However, one of the perks of membership in the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York is free access to Jewish Data.  

6. Conduct a broad general search within the Birth, Marriage and Death databases on Ancestry.

When I first started working on the Malzmann/Molthman portion of my family I was surprised to see death records for likely family members show up in Georgia and North Carolina. I never would have done specific checks for records in those locations. A general search in Ancestry's vital records databases was the key.  Of course, it helped that I was dealing with a rare surname.

7. Haul out the dead!

OK, so your deceased family member is not in the likely places. Expand your world. Where are their other relatives buried? Develop a list of your family's cemeteries. Riverside Memorial Chapel's website provides a nice listing of contact information for and directions to all Jewish Cemeteries in the New York metropolitan area. 

8. Network!

In my post a few days ago about Myer Myers, I talked about finding death certificates from outside New York City by contacting the known cemetery. Death certificates are issued based on where people died - not where they lived. They could have been visiting somewhere else or, they could have moved elsewhere.

If we accept that they might have died outside the City, where might they have been? People move later in life for a variety of reasons. Some move to get out of urban areas. Some move to be near their children. At least three of my immigrant relatives (my great grandparents' generation) retired to small farms outside the City: Myer to Sullivan County, New York; Benjamin Molthman to Renssalaer County, New York; and my great grandparents, Sarah and Isidore Morris, to Monmouth County, New Jersey. The couple I located in North Carolina and Georgia had moved to follow one of their children.

Search out the children and siblings of the deceased. Where did they live? Could the person you are seeking have died while living near a relative who'd moved away from home? Use census records, if available, or city directories to trace a network of other relatives.

9. Look for probate records.

A death certificate could be found within the file. Or, one might find other hints about payments for funeral arrangements from the estate. Cases are filed by county (for New York City, by borough). Family Search has digitized many of the borough probate file index cards. To see the actual case files, one may have to visit in person or be prepared to pay someone to copy possibly voluminous files.

10. Check the Social Security Death Index.

If the person died since about 1960, see if they are located in the Social Security Death Index (available at FamilySearch.og). Look for the location of the last payment made. This could be a hint for where the person died and where one might locate a death certificate.

11. (a bonus tip) Check old newspapers.

The New York Times might be a long-shot, but there may also be smaller circulation papers that noted the death. One's first stop should be Old Fulton New York Historical Newspapers for good access to old New York City papers.

If after all this one still has not succeeded in finding one's relative, at least one has completed a reasonably exhaustive (or exhausting!) search. If any readers have any other suggested resources or techniques, I'd love to hear about them.

1. I submitted spreadsheets and photos to JOWBR for three burial plots:
  • First Lubiner Progessive Benevolent Association (FLPBA) plots in Montefiore Cemetery, Queens, NY (including corrections to Hebrew name transliterations and typos and additional graves stones and photos acquired during my last trip to NY last summer).
  • FLPBA plot at Beth Moses Cemetery, Pinelawn, NY. I documented this plot during the summer of 2011. This one was definitely backlog and it feels good to get this completed and submitted.
  • United Old Konstantin Benevolent Society, Inc. plot in Montefiore Cemetery. I only have one relative (that I know of) in this plot (Abraham Sotskess, husband of Rebecca Myers Sotskess, my great great aunt), but I had a few moments and thought I'd record the whole shebang.
They will likely be online by early summer 2013.


  1. I am bookmarking this post for future reference. You have lots of great links here. Thanks for sharing this information!

  2. Thank you, Elizabeth. So many resources...so little time.

  3. I would say that a lot of these tips apply anywhere, not just New York City! I love what you said about researching where other relatives are buried. You really should consider where your loved one would've like to have been buried. It's also really good to search for life information on ancestry websites, like you said. Choosing a cemetery can definitely be a difficult decision. Thank goodness there are so many good services out there. Thanks for the post, Emily! http://www.utahcemetery.com

    1. Thank you for your comments and kudos, Tyrone.


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