So, now you have lots of "clues" about your family from looking at the Federal and State Census records. You probably have lots of questions about those holes in your collected information. When doing family research it is always beneficial to work backwards in time. This might seem curious to you, but after a few months of this, you will see what I mean.
Life begins with the birth of a person and ends with a death. So, find out everything you can about your ancestor and the end of their life. If you know where this person is buried, go to the cemetery to find the grave site. Don't forget your camera. If there is a memorial stone placed for this person, take several photos of the stone and the immediate surroundings. Hint: many times persons are buried in the same lot with relatives. Or, relatives may be buried in adjacent lots. If this is the case, relish what you have found and get all the information that you can while you are there.
Photos are great. But, don't forget to transcribe what is written on the memorial stone. There can be some valuable information there. However, I wish I had a dime for every time that I have found incorrect information engraved on cemetery stones. The engraver only inscribed the information that was given when the stone was purchased. Unfortunately, it may have been given by someone who did not have access to credible data. Likewise, transcribe the information on other stones in the same lot. You never know how this information might help you with your research in the future.
So, what if your deceased individual did not have a marker laid for them? Go to the cemetery office. They will have files containing information about the purchase of the plot. Usually it will mention the date of purchase, name of purchaser, address of purchaser (or maybe just the home town), who is buried in the lot (great information just in case you find more that one person in that lot, and they don't have markers either), the name of the undertaker and date of burial. They might even have a copy of the deed for the plot. Look that over very carefully. You might just have hit a gold mine of information to add to your files. By the way, when you are in the office, ask what the current charges are for laying a stone for your family member if they don't already have one. This might be a nice gesture, and you can ask other family members to donate to the fund to make it a joint venture. What a nice tribute to that ancestor!
Some cemeteries have their burial data on-line. What a wonderful source of information even before you get to the burial site. Do some internet searches to find out whatever you can before you even get into your car.
Don't know where to look? Easy. Other than Ancestry.com and other websites that post the Social Security Database, you may find death and burial information on other websites. Some of my favorites include : www.findagrave.com lets you search their grave records that have been posted by individuals and volunteers, many with photos of memorial markers. I am a volunteer photographer for this website, and encourage you to also become a volunteer. You can post photos of graves that are in close proximity to your home just by becoming a volunteer. If someone requests a photo of their family member's grave, the administration of Find A Grave will contact you by e-mail and announce that there is a request for a gravestone photograph. If interested, you can "claim" the task, find the grave in a nearby cemetery and photograph it, and then post it to the website. Your photo will be posted at the appropriate link to the grave. The person that requested the photo will be alerted that you had completed the task, and they will be sent a link whereby they can send you a personal "thank you".
Interment.net is another website that gives international data on cemeteries. Much like Find a Grave, it might also allow you to link to sites that may give you newspaper obits, etc. Gravelocator.cem.va.gov is a wonderful website to find final resting places of military veterans, whether buried in VA cemeteries or private cemeteries. American Battle Monuments Commission, found at www.abmc.gov, gives information about overseas military cemeteries, and lists thousands of missing American servicemen and women.
Still stumped? Try Mocavo at www.movaco.com. This website will search through thousands of websites for a surname, cemetery name, or whatever. It will give you a wealth of information that you will have to then narrow your search because of the number of items it will give you to search. Nevertheless, a great starting point it you have no where else to go.
If a death was from the recent past, you might try Legacy.com where on-line condolence books are posted for persons to add a personal note to a grieving family. Most of these are set up by Funeral directors, which may also have a link to the newspaper obituary. And, speaking of newspapers, don't forget Genealogybank.com and Newspaperarchive.com. While both of these do cost a fee (varies depending on the amount of time of the subscription) you just might find an obituary, news article, historical document, social security death data or other item that just might get you the information about a funeral and burial that you need to complete your search.
Rootsweb.com is a wonderful website where many historical and genealogical societies and other agencies link to post their researched data. So many of these organizations have performed wonderful deeds by indexing cemetery records and other vital information from their little part of the world. As mentioned before, Cyndi's List is a great place to look for information on various areas that just may have posted data to help you with your family research.
Most importantly, don't overlook a basic Google search. So much can be gathered from various websites, posts, databases, news articles, etc. It may take some time to wade through all of the "hits". Be sure to have some fuzzy slippers, a nice beverage by your side and plenty of time on your hands. Google can be your best friend when hunting for your family history.
A word of warning: posted information on the internet does not mean that it is verified. Just like the census information that you have gathered, all information must be verified with reliable sources. A good rule of thumb: if you find identical information from three independent, credible sources, chances are that information is correct, as long as those sources don't reference each other as a source. Confused? Don't worry, be happy. It will all become clearer as you "travel through time" with your ancestors.
Next time I'll discuss marriage documents. Now, go and get some rest. You'll need it before you put on your cemetery walking shoes.