Published January 31, 2018

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I’ve written any number of “Roots & Branches” columns about cemeteries and tombstones.

And I’ve written a fair number of columns reviewing books about genealogy in the last three decades.

But I’ve never read as perfect a book as The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide: How to Find, Record, & Preserve Your Ancestors’ Graves by Joy Neighbors.

Before I get back to the review, a quick reveal / reminder of a conflict of interest: The publisher of Neighbors’ book (Family Tree Books, the same folks who put out Family Tree Magazine) is also the publisher of my commercially printed books, the latest of which is The Family Tree Historical Newspapers Guide that it just now available.

I assure you, however, that I pull no punches here; if there was a flaw the Cemetery Field Guide, I’d be pointing it out.

Neighbors begins the book with three chapters revolving around planning – covering everything from basics such as the types of cemeteries and what types of information you might find there to popular online aggregations of death records such as Find A Grave and BillionGraves.

She continues the work with the nuts and bolts of actually visiting a cemetery, including best practices for reading headstones – and how to do it without damaging the memorial markers! – as well as figuring out the meaning behind the many types of symbols that often adorn stones (I thought I might catch the book short of perfection if it didn’t name stonecutters’ records as another nugget of information – if you’ll recall, I wrote a couple months about finding such records at the Landis Valley Museum, the first I’d ever seen – but Neighbors references these, too!)

But even though the book is billed as “cemetery field guide,” it goes much further than that several additional chapters.

First, there is an extensive section your next steps after you’re back from the field – adding the tombstone records to your genealogy research and (very important!) how to preserve that research for future generations.

The last part of the book expands its range by detailing a whole host of other death records that may add to or correct the information found on cemeteries as well as information on conserving cemeteries themselves.

The book also has a couple of appendixes with worksheets offering templates for recording cemetery data and a helpful list of websites.

This volume is a one-stop-shopping guide that is accessible to all levels of genealogists and therefore a worthy addition to the bookshelf!


The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide (Family Tree Books, Cincinnati, Ohio: $24.99, 240 pages) is available online at or through book sellers.