It’s gonna cost, but how much?

This consumer-affairs column about a family researcher socked by high fees in the course of cemetery research leaves me with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, the fees  in this case did sound steep. (For a grave location lookup, the administrators wanted $70 for the first name and $45 for each additional name, according to the article. Yikes.)

On the other hand, the overall tone– the surprise that anyone charges for this information – struck me as a bit naïve.

In fairness, the reporter did note that this is not the only cemetery that charges lookup fees, which certainly has been my experience.

But the article didn’t really distinguish between grave location lookups and plot ownership and occupant listings, which are different services and are often charged differently. Mind you, cemeteries don’t always specify this in their fee sheets, either, which leads to more confusion. Some comparisons:

One cemetery that does specify fee types, Holy Cross in Brooklyn, charges $75 for six gravesite locations, and $15 for each additional location. However: If you want a complete listing of all the deceased in a gravesite, it costs $80 for up to two gravesites and $35 for each additional gravesite. (Plot listing information can be crucial if you aren’t sure whether the headstone on a plot is accurate, or if the headstone has gone missing.)

haigney headstone, Holy Cross

Grave truth: Sometimes you have to pay to know who's in the plot.

In Menands, NY, outside of Albany, St. Agnes Cemetery provides a lookup request form that states the fee is $5 per name. The staff would “mail the results to you along with a map showing the burial location.” You could also make an appointment with a staff member for individual research for $35 per hour.

A very pretty community cemetery near where I grew up, Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plains, NJ, charges $15 per name for “genealogy requests,” which doesn’t clarify whether this means you get a plot location plus the interment listing, or just a plot location.

And to muddy things further, I’ve gotten extremely useful information in response to a nicely worded letter and a small donation. (Enclosing a donation never hurts, if you can at all manage it.)

One tip I can extract from all this is to make sure you understand what you’re getting in return for your lookup fee.  It will save disappointment down the road.

The other point is that it’s hard to say what the “usual” cemetery lookup fee is. I’m inclined to expect bigger fees at bigger, older cemeteries, where lookups presumably take longer and the volume of requests is high. What do you think?

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