The Find A Grave website has been online since 1995 and, as of summer 2011, contains 61 million records. Searching and using the site is free. The site's strength is it's run by a large community of volunteers who take photos of graves -- often all the graves in a specific cemetery -- and upload them to the site. Being able to locate a grave or a cemetery depends on whether a volunteer has covered that specific area.
Open the website (www.findagrave.com) and look on the right-+hand column under the title "Find Graves." The first option, "Search 61 million grave records" provides the advanced search screen. Use this search when there is at least some information about the deceased person including given name and a year of birth or death. There also is the option to narrow the search with the country where the person is buried or the state where they are buried.
Enter just the last name in the advanced search screen in order to see if the target name was entered incorrectly or in a variant form. The site does not support wild card search characters like "?" for single letters or "*" for multiple letters. Enter the major variant spellings of the target surname to make sure that all possible entries are found.
Enter a location in the country or U.S. state options of the advanced search if the initial search returns too many hits for practical searching. Using a location to narrow the options will give a more workable search and may turn up unexpected connections.
Ignore the "Surname Search" at the bottom as it is designed for site indexing purposes and provides no results since a space is inserted between the first letter and second letter of a name.
Click on the second search option in the right hand list, "Cemetery Search." The site contains 300,000 cemeteries, but the main search assumes that the name is known. The full spelling does not need to be entered as the search will work with the first three letters.
Enter the name of the nearest town or city if the name of the cemetery is not known. Many cemeteries are named after their location or the name is included somewhere in the official name. Alternately, the name of the road the cemetery is located on can be tried in the search.
Select one of the browse options offered by the search form for either country or U.S. state. Depending on the country, this may produce too many results since the site will only return information if there are fewer than 6,000 hits. The results, if shown, are in alphabetical order so it is possible to make some educated guesses as to the appropriate cemetery.
Pick one of the search results and both a map and an image of the cemetery sign will be displayed allowing for accurate location of the site, which also includes GPS data on latitude and longitude.
Join the Find A Grave community if all searches fail. Contributions will add to the database so that others might be able to locate their ancestors. In addition, the Discussion Forums are active and it may be possible to locate someone who lives close to the target cemetery and have them visit it and take photos.
Be flexible in the spelling of the surname; try many alternatives. Consider contributing to the site to help support the service.
Locating graves of ancestors can be difficult, so be patient. Try nearby localities to an ancestor's home. Try cemeteries close to children of an ancestor in case they spent their last days with them.