How to Locate Unmarked Graves in a Cemetery

Written by giselle diamond
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How to Locate Unmarked Graves in a Cemetery
Locating unmarked graves can be tricky. (cemetery 2 image by Anton Chernenko from

At the time of death, a person without a headstone will be buried with a small plastic marker that displays the name and date of death. Weather elements and general cemetery property maintenance will result in these plastic markers being ruined and discarded, therefore leaving the burial plot without a name. This can make it difficult for loved ones to find the proper grave of their deceased family member. By utilising cemetery records, you can find a loved one's unmarked grave based on those that are surrounded nearby.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Yard Stick
  • Map of Cemetery
  • List of nearby deceased people
  • Specific Location (Row and Colum) of Unmarked Grave

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  1. 1

    Ask the cemetery owner or park manager to give you the specific location of the deceased person you are searching for, as well as the names and location of those that are nearby. Ideally, acquire the information for those buried in the same row as the unmarked grave, as well as any that are immediately surrounding. Federal law requires cemeteries to keep all burial records indefinitely. Therefore, this information will be readily available to you at the cemetery. Burial records will indicate that a person has a headstone or burial marker.

    How to Locate Unmarked Graves in a Cemetery
    Ask for the information you need. (graveyard 3 image by chrisharvey from
  2. 2

    Highlight on a map of the cemetery the general area or section in which the unmarked grave is located. Some cemeteries are very large, so it is important to identify landmarks listed on the cemetery map to find the proper section. A cemetery should also be able to offer you a section-specific map that shows the various grave spaces. On this map, mark the unmarked grave space as well as the nearby grave spaces of reference.

    How to Locate Unmarked Graves in a Cemetery
    Highlight area on a map of the cemetery. (new orleans cemetery image by Alexandra Cockfield from
  3. 3

    Find the headstone or burial marker that identifies the first grave space of reference that is listed or identified on the section-specific map. The average burial space is 3 1/2 feet wide by 8 feet long.

    How to Locate Unmarked Graves in a Cemetery
    Find the burial marker of the first grave. (burial stone markers image by Tom Oliveira from
  4. 4

    Measure the distance from one space to the next using the yard stick. If the identifying space is in Row B Space 4, and the unmarked grave you are looking to locate is in Row D, Space 6, you will first need to measure across 7 feet to be in the correct section in the direction indicated by the cemetery map. Stand in this section.

    How to Locate Unmarked Graves in a Cemetery
    Measure distances from one grave to the next. (childs grave image by Steve Lovegrove from
  5. 5

    Locate the surrounding points of reference to the unmarked grave. Ideally, if the unmarked grave is in Row D, Space 6, you will want Row C or E, Space 6 or Row D, Space 5 or 7 to be a reference point. This will put you in the space next to the unmarked grave.

    How to Locate Unmarked Graves in a Cemetery
    Use surrounding markers for reference. (grave of an Unknown Soldier image by Lise Powell from
  6. 6

    Identify the unmarked grave as the space located next to the reference point burial spaces on the cemetery map that does not have a headstone or burial marker. Cemeteries will supply bright coloured flags to be inserted into the ground for future need in locating the unmarked grave.

    How to Locate Unmarked Graves in a Cemetery
    Identify the unmarked grave. (catholic cemetery in Portugal image by DSL from

Tips and warnings

  • If you do not have a ruler, utilise the approximate scale that one large step is the distance across a burial space and two large steps is the length of a burial space.
  • Place a marker such as a painted rock, flag or artificial floral arrangement on the grave so that finding the unmarked grave in the future is simple.

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