Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Exhaustive Searches

Question from Pat R.:
I haven't been able to find where my great grandfather James Fernandez Adams was buried. Any suggestions?

I happen to be one of those researchers who feels that the job isn't complete until I find a person's final resting place so Pat's question made me want to do a little searching of my own. Unfortunately no matter how much you look, sometimes the answer just isn't there. An exhaustive search is complete when you have checked every source that you know to exist. Here is the background info and negative searches that Pat provided:

  • James died 20 May 1920 in Wilson County, North Carolina per his death certificate.
  • His body was transported to Atlanta, Georgia for a home service and then the body was removed to Alabama [exact location is not noted] per his obituary in the Atlanta Constitution.
  • The funeral home no longer exists and it is unknown what happened to the records.
  • James' first wife died in 1909 and is buried in the Rosemere Cemetery in Opelika, Alabama. There is no marker in this cemetery for James.
  • James' second wife died in 1944 and is buried in the Mount Gilead Methodist Church Cemetery in Fulton County, Georgia. There is no marker in this cemetery for James.
  • James' parents and his grandfather are buried in Old Salem Baptist Church Cemetery in Opelika, Alabama. There is no marker in this cemetery for James
  • There are no church burial records for Old Salem.

Additional steps that I took:

  • There are several people with files posted on, Rootsweb, and New FamilySearch that have death and burial information for James. [New FamilySearch is only accessible if you are LDS or have been granted a beta account]. I contacted all of these people but no one was able to give me an exact burial location with a source for that information. The locations they listed included Old Salem Baptist Church in Lee County, Alabama and in the town of Opelika in Lee County with no cemetery named.
  • First impressions are that James is buried in either Old Salem or Rosemere, with Old Salem being the most likely. Since he remarried after his first wife's death, it is more likely he is buried with his parents and not with his first wife [burial with his first wife certainly is possible but less likely].
  • Checked USGenWeb [and the internet in general] for possible cemetery surveys for Rosemere and Old Salem Baptist Church Cemeteries in Lee County. Even though these cemeteries are on Find-A-Grave that doesn't mean that these surveys are complete. Also, older surveys sometimes list markers that have been lost. A survey of Old Salem shows a marker with the surname Adams but the first name is unreadable. This survey was done in 2006. When the list of Adams names were compared to what is on Find-A-Grave, there is no marker corresponding to the Adams marker at USGenWeb. A memorial was added to Find-A-Grave along with a photo request and detailed information for the volunteer. A survey of Rosemere was not found.[No published cemetery book for Lee County was found. Other grave websites checked, BillionGraves and].
  • An internet search showed that Rosemere is actually owned by the city of Opelika. An email was sent to the Public Works Department [PWD]. Sexton records do exist for Rosemere but the PWD states there is no record of James being buried there.

So now what? I consider the above to be an exhaustive search. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out like Pat had hoped. I advised Pat to document in her notes that she believes James to be buried at Old Salem Baptist Church Cemetery in Lee County, Alabama along with an explanation of why she thinks that. I also advised her to make a memorial on Find-A-Grave for James stating in the bio section that he is most likely buried there in an unmarked grave along with the research to back it up. Other researchers will then have the opportunity to contact her if they have additional information. We are still waiting on the photo of the unknown Adams grave in Old Salem. We have our fingers crossed that whoever goes out to take the photo finds the marker and is able to read the inscription with the use of some flour.

There is a bigger point to be made here. Many resources were checked. How do you keep track of what you have done? What were your positive results and your negative ones? If you don't record this information in some way, will you remember what you did three years from now? I will be doing a follow-up blog on the importance of research calendars/logs to keep an accurate record of all of your research efforts.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. This is a great example of how make a search. Frustrating, yes, that the answers aren't there yet though. I guess that is just part of the game we are playing. Thanks for the guidance.

  2. Thank so much for your comment! Good luck with your trip to Annapolis today! Hopefully you will find some answers to those pesky genealogy brick walls :)