Daniel’s Favorites: 5 Cemeteries Our Genealogy Expert Loves to Visit

When you’re as obsessed with genealogy as I am, cemeteries become your #1 favorite place to visit. I have visited many, many cemeteries around the world: when I’m traveling, when I’m at home… even when I know for sure that I don’t have any relatives buried in a cemetery, I like to take photos whenever I can and help document the tombstones.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the cemetery of the city where I live today:

1. Kfar Saba, Israel

First and foremost, this is my favorite cemetery because my father is buried there.

Daniel’s father’s grave in Kfar Saba, Israel, with inscriptions in Hebrew and Spanish

Daniel’s father’s grave in Kfar Saba, Israel, with inscriptions in Hebrew and Spanish

But it’s also my favorite because I’ve visited it constantly and have seen how it grows and changes over time. This gives me a little bit of perspective on life and death.

I do my part to keep online cemetery records up to date, so relatives of the deceased who don’t live in the area will be able to find and view the tombstones online. It’s also very interesting to see the different languages of the inscriptions on the tombstones, as many of the people who were buried there were immigrants from different places (as my father was).

2. The Jewish Cemetery in Vienna, Austria

This cemetery is located within Central Cemetery in Vienna, or Zentralfriedhof.

Entrance to the Zentralfriedhof cemetery in Vienna, Austria

Entrance to the Zentralfriedhof cemetery in Vienna, Austria

My maternal great-grandfather is buried there, as he died after World War II while trying to get home from a concentration camp in the west. It’s a very peaceful and quiet cemetery — well, I suppose like every other cemetery. But it’s the first cemetery where I’ve seen deer strolling around like it’s the middle of the woods! It’s a very interesting mix of living creatures among the deceased.

The tombstones in the cemetery go back hundreds and hundreds of years, and the architecture and the designs on the stones are really works of art.

3. Merry Cemetery, Săpânța, Romania

This very unique cemetery features tombstones that are actually not stones at all — they are made of wood. All of them are painted in blue, and instead of the usual engravings, they feature colorful carvings that represent who the person was and what they did in their life.

Examples of brightly painted wooden tombstones in the Merry Cemetery, Săpânța, Romania

Examples of brightly painted wooden tombstones in the Merry Cemetery, Săpânța, Romania

These carvings are a kind of celebration of each person’s life and contain the things that person probably wanted their relatives and loved ones to remember about them, things that would give them happy thoughts when their loved ones came to visit them.

The Merry Cemetery in Săpânța, which is in the northern part of Romania, is actually quite a tourist attraction — and one of the few that charges an entrance fee.

4. A forgotten cemetery in Borsa, Romania

I learned about this cemetery from a Jewish remembrance book of the town of Borsa in the Maramures-Transylvania county, and I followed the illustrated map that was in the book to find this cemetery during one of my visits.

Now, the funny story is that I went with a taxi driver and very little knowledge of Romanian, trying to give him directions to get to the cemetery as it was marked on the map. However, he and many others insisted that there was no cemetery in that part of the city. When we arrived in the area, we started knocking on doors and asking the residents if there had ever been a cemetery there. Finally, one of them said that yes, there had once been a cemetery behind one of the houses. He took us a little up the hill and suddenly pointed to a small rock leaning out of the ground and said, “Here is where the cemetery was.”

So I started digging, while some of the youngest locals watched me as if I was crazy… which I may well be! With some help from other older  local people and some tools, I managed to uncover the rock — which turned out to be a tombstone that was buried in the hill. I was able to take a look at the inscription to confirm that the book, the map, and I were all right that there was once a cemetery in this place.

Digging up a forgotten tombstone in Borsa, Romania

Digging up a forgotten tombstone in Borsa, Romania

5. Piscatawaytown Burial Ground, Edison, Middlesex, New Jersey

Whenever I travel to the United States (generally 4–5) times a year, I crash at the home of long-time friends of my parents who have become my sort of adopted American family. Near their home in New Jersey is this fascinating cemetery I probably pass by twice or 3 times a day when I’m there. It’s one of the oldest cemeteries in the area with graves dating back to the 17th century.

A tombstone from 1766 in the Piscatawaytown Burial Ground

A tombstone from 1766 in the Piscatawaytown Burial Ground

I like this cemetery because it’s next to a little chapel, and even though the tombstones are barely legible, I can see that it’s well cared for. I’ve visited many cemeteries around the world and I know from looking at this one that people are keeping the grass and weeds trimmed and the area clean. It’s moving to see how despite the centuries that have passed, the memories of the people buried there are still being honored and kept alive even today.

I love spending time in cemeteries around the world, looking for family members, recording and photographing tombstones to preserve and digitize for future generations. I hope that my work has helped others find their ancestors and reconnect with their legacies. What are some of your favorite cemeteries and why? Please share with us!

Daniel Horowitz is the Genealogy Expert for MyHeritage. Dedicated to Genealogy since 1986, Daniel was the teacher and the study guide editor of the family history project “Searching for My Roots” in Venezuela for 15 years. He was a board member of The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) for 10 years. He is now involved in several crowdsource digitization and transcription projects, and holds a board-level position at The Israel Genealogy Research Association (IGRA). Since 2006 Daniel has been working at MyHeritage liaising with genealogy societies, bloggers, and media, as well as lecturing and attending conferences around the world.