Friday, February 15, 2008

SD: WPA Graves Registration Project online

NOTE from DearMYRTLE: Thanks to Joy Rich who forwarded this information. All inquiries should be addressed to

Feb. 6, 2008
State Historical Society places index to cemetery records online

CONTACT: Chelle Somsen, (605) 773-5521,

PIERRE, SD -- A searchable index to a database of cemetery records was recently placed online by the South Dakota State Historical Society.

The Works Progress Administration, a New Deal-era relief agency, conducted a survey of the cemeteries in South Dakota in the 1940s. This project, commonly referred to as the Graves Registration Project, resulted in a description of the cemetery, sometimes a corresponding map, and usually a listing of burials. For some cemeteries there is only a listing of the number of graves instead of individual graves. [emphasis added.]

This collection is housed in the State Historical Society-Archives at the CulturalHeritageCenter and is a popular research tool for genealogists. Due to their deteriorating condition, the original records were microfilmed to minimize their use.

During the past several years the information from these records was entered into a database by staff and volunteers. The information can now be found online at Click on “Cemetery Record Search” under “In the Spotlight.” Or go directly to

“By placing this tool online, we hope to make this information more easily accessible to researchers,” said Chelle Somsen, State Archivist.

The general description of the cemetery includes the name of the cemetery, legal land description, general appearance of the cemetery, whether there were special sections in the cemetery for soldiers or veterans, the date of the organization of the cemetery, if the cemetery is used by more than one denomination, and the name of the controlling official of the cemetery at that time. The project also included lone burials or small family plots if they were known. In many cases these plots are now located in fields.

The inventory of the cemetery included the name of the deceased, the grave, lot, block and section number, date of death, age at death, sex, and whether or not the person was a veteran.

“Unfortunately, in some cases, the name of the deceased was marked as unknown in the inventory because the names had worn off of the marker, the cemetery records were incomplete, the location was marked with the simple cross with no names or dates, or the name was undetermined,” said Somsen. “This tended to happen more with the very early burials, or the burials in small family plots.”

The index will allow researchers to search by last name, first name, city, county and cemetery name. The results will yield names, death dates, lot and block numbers, city, county and cemetery names that match the request.

Call (605) 773-3804 for more information or visit and click on “Archives” near the top of the page. Public archives hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and the first Saturday of each month.

The South Dakota State Historical Society, an office of the Department of Tourism and State Development, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call (605) 773-3458 or visit for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call (605) 394-1936 for more information.


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