The Archive Lady: Using Archives to Find Burial Records
Chris in Kentucky asks: “I have been concentrating on locating the burial locations and records of my ancestors. Can you tell me what kinds of records an archive could have that could help me find burial locations or any burial information for my ancestors?”
Chris asks a great question and one that I get all the time as an archivist. Many times, genealogists do not know what types of records or information can be located in an archive. This is understandable considering the fact that archives can have so many types of records, and it is sometimes difficult to know everything located in those boxes and file folders. Genealogists should keep in mind that every archive is different and can hold different records. While one archive might have a certain type of record, the next archive may not.
As for burial records for our ancestors, local archives could have several different kinds of records that could be of help to the genealogist:
Published Cemetery Books
Sometimes a local society or group has published a cemetery book listing each cemetery and the transcriptions of the headstones in those cemeteries. These types of publications could have the location of the cemetery and even directions on how to get to the cemetery. Normally, each cemetery is listed with the individual interments with the transcribed information. Keep in mind that this type of publication is usually compiled by volunteers. It is quite possible that a headstone is missed (or even an entire cemetery) if the location was not known at the time the book was compiled.
Funeral Home Records
Funeral home records are a great place to locate the name of the cemetery where your ancestor was buried or to find out how your ancestor’s remains were handled at the time of their death. Not all archives have funeral home records, but many times the local funeral home will donate their oldest records to the local archive for safe keeping and preservation. If the originals have not been donated, there could be an index or transcription of the records in the archives that could be consulted.
Another great place to find burial information about your ancestor is in obituaries. Newspaper obituaries, many times, included the name of the cemetery where the person was buried or indicated what happened with the remains. Archives could have the local newspaper on microfilm, in bound volumes or have an obituary clipping collection in a vertical files collection.
These records that are found in the court system could be a great help in adding additional information about your ancestor’s death and burial. When a person’s estate is probated, the expenses of the funeral and burial could be accounted for during the probate process. The administrator of the estate could have reported the burial expenses as part of the debt of the estate to be reconciled. It is always a good idea to search for probate records for your ancestor, even if they did not leave a last will and testament.
This may not seem like a good record collection to find burial information. However, many of our local mercantile stores also served as the place where family members would purchase the casket, burial clothes and other accessories for their deceased relative. You might be able to locate store ledgers in an archive which list accounting records for your family indicating the purchase of such items. While these records may not reveal the name of the cemetery, they could give you information on the time of death and how the family carried out the burial process.
As you can see, there are several types of record sources that can be found in archives to help anyone find burial information about their ancestor. It is always important to talk to the archivist about what kinds of records are available in their facility when doing genealogy research.
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NEW! The ABC’s and 123’s of Researching Your Ancestor’s School Records by Melissa Barker
The records of local public schools and universities can valuable resources for finding information about your ancestors. Even if your ancestors didn’t attend school, you would be surprised by what you can find in school records about them. This webinar will show you what types of school records there are and how to find them in repositories.
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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