I could blame my parents for my cemetery fascination. Heather and I did grow up down the hill from one. No, it wasn't spooky. It just was.
Actually, to take that "blame" one step further, I think my dad is mostly responsible for my fascination. You see, Dad is a history buff. He even considered being a history teacher for awhile. He taught us that history isn't just a bunch of dates and facts to be memorized. History is made up of people who did something.
Where is that more evident then a cemetery? The one near my childhood home was a Mormon cemetery. It started in 1846 when the Mormons were heading form Nauvoo, Illinois, to their final destination in Salt Lake City, Utah. The group got "split" at the Missouri River, half on the Iowa side, half on the Nebraska side. It was a nasty winter, and many didn't make it. The inscriptions and size of the tombstones tell a lot.
When my daughter was younger, we made a trip to DeSmet, South Dakota — home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. As part of a tour, we went to... yep, the cemetery. We saw the final resting place of Pa, Ma, their infant son, Mary, Carrie and Grace. I learned there that Pa was a Freemason. Must have been important to him. It's on his tombstone.
There is a large, historic cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota. Mt. Moriah documents the town's history in ways newspapers and other records don't. There is a Chinese section of the land that speaks volumes to the discrimination they suffered. Former Sheriff and town VIP Seth Bullock is buried up high where he can continue to watch over Deadwood. That speaks to how well respected he was. And there is a Masonic section of that cemetery, as well.
So, you see, in addition to finding some wonderful names for characters, or to testify to a tough winter or an illness outbreak (if you see a lot of deaths the same year, you know something happened), cemeteries are one way to learn the history of an area. The things that are important to the people will show up in how they honor their dead. And what was important to them has shaped who they are now.
Don't think so? Try writing your own obituary. You'll find what's important to you!