Cogill, 55, was recently diagnosed with epilepsy. While talking to her doctors about how genetics may play a part, the Brick woman recounted the story of her great-aunt Marion. Marion fell off a swing as a child, and from that time on, suffered epileptic seizures.
‘‘My neurologist advised me that Marion most likely fell off the swing due to an epileptic seizure, not the reverse,’’ Cogill said.
Cogill wanted to investigate how many of her ancestors may have been similarly afflicted.
Her family research was going well. With help from cemeteries in New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois, Cogill tracked down the final resting places of her epileptic great-aunt, her paternal grandparents, maternal great-grandparents and two sets of great-great-great grandparents.
Her quest was stopped short by high fees.
THE REQUEST, THE REBUFF AND THE REALITY
Cogill contacted Hollywood Memorial Park and Cemetery to learn the specific locations of her ancestors. After no one returned her telephone message, she submitted her request in writing.
A few weeks later, Cogill received a letter back. It said the cemetery would be happy to assist her for an upfront fee of $70 for the first person and $45 for each additional person.
‘‘The charges to search these records are preposterous,’’ Cogill said.
The fees took her off guard because she wasn’t charged for information at the cemeteries she’d worked with previously.
Cogill called Hollywood. The representative told her the records are not computerized, so an employee would need to search manually through record books.
Cogill offered to search the books herself, but she was told no.
‘‘The absurd expense of acquiring my family records now prevents me from doing so,’’ Cogill said.
Bamboozled suggested Cogill write to Hollywood again, clarifying that she’s researching her own family. Sometimes cemeteries charge for-profit professional genealogists who do research for others, in which case the fees would make sense.
We called Hollywood’s parent company CMS Mid-Atlantic, which according to its web site owns five cemetery properties in New Jersey and one in Penn.
After no one returned a week’s worth of messages, we called Hollywood directly. They hung up on us.
Undeterred, Bamboozled did a little research to make sure we weren’t crazy in thinking these fees were, well, crazy.
‘‘That’s a very basic level of service that you provide to distant family members and it seems to me that should be included in the price of the plot,’’ said Jim Tipton, founder of FindAGrave.com, a free website that allows members to search more than 38 million grave records.
Tipton said it’s not uncommon for family members to face small charges for information, but he’s never heard of a $70 charge.
Non-religious cemeteries such as Hollywood fall under the regulations of the New Jersey Cemetery Board. But the rules don’t cover this.
‘‘There are no state regulations covering it,’’ said Jeff Lamm, spokesman for the Division of Consumer Affairs.
To be fair, manually searching records can be time consuming.
Many old records are fragile, which makes the search take even longer, said Judy Welshons, executive director of the New Jersey Cemetery Association. Still, she said she’d never heard of a fee of that magnitude for a plot or lot number.
FINALLY, A CALLBACK
Bamboozled made one last-ditch effort to contact execs at Hollywood’s parent company. We received an email response which included a three-page letter to Deborah Cogill.
The letter, from CMS Mid-Atlantic exec William Passodelis, said as part of everyday service, when a family member comes to a property, employees try to provide the location of a family member immediately. But when a genealogy request like Cogill’s is received, the cemetery would have to devote an employee and a substantial amount of time to the task. He said they generally charge a fee for this service, and they respond within four to six weeks.
He did offer, as long as deadlines are not an issue for Cogill, to ask employees to undertake the search during periods of free time.
‘‘If you are under no deadlines and have the luxury of time, this service can be provided without charge and would be completed at some point in the first quarter of the calendar year 2010 barring any complications or personal issues,’’ Passodelis wrote.
That would save Cogill at least $565 for the 12 relatives she knows are buried or interred at Hollywood.
HERE SHE COMES
Cogill was pleased with Passodelis’ offer, and she was willing to wait for information.
In the meantime, Cogill took a ride to Hollywood with her husband Jim to meet our photographer. When she was there, she visited the office to see if she could get the location of her grandmother. She was met with a pleasant surprise in employee Walter Braun.
‘‘He provided maps of the park and mausoleum and directed us to the correct resting places,’’ Cogill said. ‘‘He was also kind enough to give me copies of file cards with family information concerning the plot, lots and mausoleum numbers.’’ She left with specific locations for seven relatives.
‘‘I am so delighted,” she said.
Cogill still has several relatives whose locations have not yet been found, but Cogill expects Hollywood will find them. She promises to keep us posted.
YOUR FAMILY HISTORY
To research your family tree, ask the cemetery if it can provide the information you need.
Any and all fees must be on the cemetery’s price list. Check the New Jersey Cemetery Board’s website, state.nj.us/oag/ca/cemetery, for more on fees.
If you can’t or don’t want to pay, you may be able to find grave information online. Some services are free while others charge fees, so ask before you agree to anything.