Visiting cemeteries

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Wellington Cemetery, Tamil Nadu

Be aware that locating the cemetery where your ancestor is buried can be frustratingly difficult. Locals may not speak English, and even if they do, the cemetery name you know and the one they know may be different since cemetery names may change over time, and the same applies to the roads where they are situated.  Some cemeteries are in military areas and for that reason are inaccessible.

Bacsa may be able to supply a cemetery location map and/or written directions to find a cemetery.  Enquiries to Miss Caroline Whitehead, 21 Pentlow Street, London, SW1 5 1LX; email: caroline.m.whitehead@googlemail.com.   And try using Google Maps and Google Earth to get a more up-to-date picture of the cemetery’s whereabouts. But bear in mind that many places have several cemeteries so sadly even with a map it may be necessary to visit more than one.

Finding a particular grave within a cemetery can also be difficult. The relevant cemetery file in the Bacsa archive may provide further information on it, and if you are very lucky a cemetery map, a copy of the inscription on your ancestor’s headstone, or even a photograph. More likely though, you will have to depend on your own perseverance aided by the cemetery chowkidar (watchman), if there is one.

If you already have a copy of your ancestor’s inscription, take it with you so that you can check its accuracy.  If you are thinking of embarking on a major project to transcribe all the inscriptions in the cemetery, in order to avoid duplication of effort, it would be sensible to check with Bacsa to ascertain whether we already have lists of inscriptions.

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A mausoleum surrounded by jungle at Meerut cantonment cemetery

Once at the cemetery, be prepared for jungly conditions.  Stout shoes are advisable, but bare arms and legs are not.  A stick may be useful to hold back brambles and even to beat off snakes (if the locals warn that snakes are present in the cemetery they may not be joking). When it comes to copying inscriptions, use a digital camera to photograph the inscriptions and graves.  Also, photograph any burial records. You may already have basic burial information about your ancestor, but if not ask the chowkidar or the parish priest if he is available whether they have any burial registers.  While copies of burial registers were returned to England and are now available in the Ecclesiastical Records at the British Library the latter do have gaps.  Neither Chowkidar nor parish priest are well paid so if they have been helpful a tip for the former and a contribution to church funds for the latter would be appropriate.

Make a report

Bacsa would be grateful for a report on any cemeteries you visit, and we have a standard Visitors Report Form for this purpose, but if  you can amplify this with a fuller description of the cemetery’s condition with a few photographs to illustrate it, so much the better.  Photographs and details of particularly interesting tombs or inscriptions will be welcome.  Listing all the inscriptions will usually take much too long, but if you are able to do it Bacsa will be most grateful.  If you are intending to visit a cemetery it will be worth checking with Bacsa to see what information we already have, and we may be able to supply you with a map showing its location.

For a selection of cemetery photos visit the Bacsa Gallery