Monday, July 19, 2010

Madness Monday: Organizing my death and cemetery files

I really liked Jen's Preparing for Research trips post regarding the ways in which she gets organized for an upcoming research trip by using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.  I think the reason I liked it is because I use the same method to prepare for upcoming research trips and to manage my ongoing research. 

Jen discussed her burial spreadsheet that lists names, birth and death dates, burial place, grave location, and death certificate number.  I will definitely add death certificate number to my spreadsheet, and I also have a couple of additions for her, and anyone else who likes to use Excel spreadsheets to manage their genealogy data:

In a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet I have a column for each of the following:

1) Cemetery
2) ID
3) Prefix (I don't use this often, unless I know the person was never married, I'll put in Miss, or if a name like Kelly was a male instead of a female)
4) Last name
5) First Name
6) Middle Name
7) Suffix
8) Maiden Name
9) Nickname
10) Birth month
11) Birth day
12) Birth Year
13) Death month
14) Death day
15) Death Year
16) Plot
17) Notes
18) Marker Transcription
19) Has Photo (Yes/No)
20) (*New) Death Certificate
21) (*New) My spreadsheet contains both Brenden's ancestors and my ancestors.  So I'll add a column called Tree and indicate whether it's Brenden or my tree. 
22) I'm also going to add a column for obituary, to indicate whether or not I've found the obituary for that particular person. 

If you've use to import multiple names for a single cemetery you'll probably recognize a lot of the categories.  I've added a few columns, and have kept some of the columns in the same order/format for easy uploading to

I used to have a spreadsheet for each cemetery, but every time I added a new record, I'd have to add it in both spreadsheets.....until I found a better way (*Note: This is in Microsoft 2007, but other versions are similar):
1) Highlight the column headings of your spreadsheet
2) From Home, go to Sort and Filter (AZ with filter image)
3) Click the drop down arrow
4) Select "Filter"

Now all of the column heading will have a drop down arrow (pictured below).  When you want to find all of the people buried in a particular cemetery, for example Pine Mound Cemetery, I select the arrow in the cemetery column and in the drop down box select Pine Mound.  I can also use the drop down box to sort the columns alphabetically.  Or if I was looking for the graves of a particular surname, I'd go to the last name column, click on the arrow, and select the right surname from the drop down box.  Or if I was looking for all the graves I had not yet obtained pictures for, I'd go to the Has Photo column, click the arrow, and select no.

The spreadsheet also serves another purpose for me.  I use ancestry, google, and other websites on a frequent basis.  I often find a name or two that could possibly belong to my family, but I'm not sure how or if they really do belong.  I put their name and information in my spreadsheet to remind me to find information about that person and see if and how they are related, and so if I find they are related later down the road, I don't lose the information I found.

I need to do some more data entry, as I currently only have my ancestors whose cemetery locations I have found.  I need to add the ancestors whose cemetery location is unknown to help me remember to search for the location and remind me to look for them if I am in a cemetery that contains other family members.

I also find this spreadsheet useful to add information when I am not sitting in front of my genealogy software (Family Tree Maker), and can keep the information organized until I can input the information into the software.

What do you use to organize your cemetery/death files?  Do you have any suggestions for additional columns?


  1. Great post! I'll reference it on my blog as a follow-up.

    I finished organizing my file finally and went through all my Death Certs this afternoon to make sure I entered them in the Excel sheet and FTM DB. I should add the FindAGrave # though. I have entered roughly 60 people on that so far.

  2. I use Excel for my research log precisely because of the data sorting capabilities you described. I record information using headers for year, location (State and County), surname, given name(s), dna/family group, fact description (which includes precise dates), master source, source detail, database ID (filled out when I transfer a fact to genealogy software), notes (for comments and questions raised by information) and a record id#. It's a flexible enough system to allow me to record almost anything from vital stats to land transfers and immigration records. I can sort by date, location, surname. I could add a column for record type if I wanted to track immigration records, cemetery records, etc.
    I have a small computer with me and can often add info directly to the spreadsheet. If not, it's my first step in the evening or when I get home from a trip. The only thing I don't do well is use it when I'm at home and doing online research. But that's operator error, not the spreadsheet ;-)

  3. Melissa,

    Great Article. Thank you.

    I have Blogged on how I do this. Pretty close to what you did. But, I started with the Find-A-Grave downloadable template for submission, then added the information that I needed.

    If you would like more information, please stop by:

    Actually, if you click here:

    You'll see some more detail about how I use EXCEL for tracking my Cemetery Photos.


  4. Hi Melissa,
    Very nice article, and I too have blogged about this. My access chart has two additional columns, that of the state where the cemetery is located (as I have over 130), and a M or F, which is either my mother's or father's side.
    Isn't it nice to be organized in something!