Taking photographs at the cemetery

Ever been to the cemetery, taken photos, and realized when you got home that those photos don’t really help you? And you’re unable to go back to take more? Get in the habit of taking these every time:

The cemetery sign should be the first photo you take each time you go to the cemetery. When you go to several cemeteries, you can lose track of which one was which. Having the sign as the first photo for that cemetery, you never have to wonder later, “Which cemetery was this?” All you need to do is scroll back through your photos until you get to the cemetery sign. Not all cemeteries have an official sign but you can make your own. Write down the name (or the location if you don’t know the name) and take a picture of that.

Take a picture of the entire tombstone, even if you can’t read all of the details. You wouldn’t photocopy just one paragraph of an ancestor’s will. Treat the tombstone the same way: as a document. Get a photo showing the whole thing.  Make sure you get photos of the back and sides of the stone, too!

There are often details that aren’t legible in the photo of the entire tombstone. That’s when you want to take close-up shots. Take photos of the name and dates, the epitaph, symbols, and other details. (Take them from several angles to improve your odds of reading them later.)

Get a Wider Shot if you want to have some hope of finding that tombstone again. Take several steps back and get a photo of the tombstone and the stones around it. This helps give you landmarks for finding it again. Small tombstone can easily be overlooked. But a larger tombstone nearby stands out more and you can look for that stone again and know that the smaller one is right in front of it.

Smartphone cameras can geo-tag a photo. But what if you don’t have cell coverage at that cemetery or you’re not using your phone? .. And have geo-tagging turned off?

Our ancestors are often buried near other relatives. Get photos of the surrounding tombstones (including closeups of the inscriptions). Even if you don’t know how (or even if) those people are related now, you’ll have the information for when you do more research on the family later.

It’s so easy to take tons of photos at the cemetery. Getting into the habit of taking these 5 photos will help you be less frustrated when you’re looking at them later.

Cemeteries fascinate some people, and with the advent of digital cameras and UTube, many choose to spend their spare time in documenting them.  Use Google or another server and enter Houston, Texas Cemeteries on UTube – see what you come up with!

Hints for successful cemetery research

Once located, research the property.  Learn history of the neighborhood. When did it began, or what is the date of the earliest burial? How large is it? Who owns it? Is there a cemetery organization or care group in place?

Cemetery photography: Have you been told that you can’t take gravestone photographs? Is permission required?

The answer to this question is really basic, but it’s one that just about every genealogist and the taphophile tend to forget. It’s the law of property rights. Any landowner - public or private - has certain rights to control what happens on that land. Even when the land is publicly owned and dedicated to a public purpose, such as a park, the landowner is absolutely entitled to impose time, place and manner restrictions as to what can and can’t be done on the land.

In the United States, it’s commonly a matter of state law, and state laws may well delegate decision making authority to municipalities or counties. So what’s important to remember here is that every cemetery - even a public cemetery - has the right to set its own rules and those rules will be upheld by the courts as long as they’re reasonable. If you don’t obey the rules, you can be asked to leave and charged with trespassing if you refuse.

The fact is that restrictions on photography in cemeteries are extremely common. They don’t usually tend to be very onerous - often, it’s nothing more than a limit on the type of equipment used or on taking photos of funerals or persons mourning without permission.  With the increasing use of the grounds as a "free" photographic resource, rather than a burial ground, occasionally advance permission and payment of a fee is required. What does that mean for photography in cemeteries? Especially for those who contribute to Find-A-Grave. Additional permission if you wish to post a photo you’ve taken on the internet may also be required.

Not every cemetery has restrictions on photography. Many small cemeteries and cemeteries that no longer accept burials do not have an active management to contact to ask for permission. Where there is no office or staff on site to ask, the presumption is that you can photograph.

But the standard suggestion for photography in any cemetery is good advice regardless: get the rules of the road in advance - know if you need permission, whether there’s a fee, and what the hours are so you don’t accidentally get locked inside the gates.

Ed Snyder, "11 Tips for Taking Pictures in a Cemetery," Stone Angels, posted 16 Dec 2005 ( accessed 26 Oct 2012).

Cemetery Photography