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UK Burials: The Value of Persistence

UK burial can be expensive and difficult to obtain, but you can obtain free information by educating yourself and being persistent.


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Birth certificates, death certificates and all that come in between, but what about the final resting place? One of the most difficult pieces of information I have tried to obtain is UK burial information. The reason being the lack of a central database. There is a National Burial Index on CD available for purchase; although the 3rd edition contains a great deal more entries than its predecessors, unfortunately, it is incomplete. I decided against ordering the CD as it was a pricey gamble, and began investing to see how and what information I could obtain via other means. What I learned was obtaining UK burial information can be somewhat of a pain. A little perseverance and understanding of English burials can be extremely useful.

I began searching for information regarding burials via the Internet, obtaining valuable resources. One can contact the local archive office to assist in locating the final resting place of an ancestor. However, a fee is required to perform a search regardless of any information being obtained, and the fee is determined by the amount of time spent searching. Obviously, the more details you can provide the less time required for the search. For me this would be an expensive venture as I had several family members I hoped to locate. Luckily, there are ways to obtain some information for free! This does require time, patience and perseverance.

Start by trying to determine burial possibilities. Look at religious denominations, the area the individual resided, and historical events such as war, etc.. Where are other family members are buried? Churchyard or Cemetery? Cemeteries and churchyards are not the same thing. Churchyards traditionally are places of burial connected to the churches either physically or through their ownership by the Church of England. Cemeteries did not come into use until the 1820s; they are generally large tracts of land located on the outskirts of the settlement.

Unlike other countries, England does not have graves to "buy." You can however purchase burial rights (private graves), meaning you have bought the right to decide who is buried in a given plot. The other option is a public grave, meaning interment takes place in a grave owned by the local authority. Public graves may contain several coffins of unrelated individuals, as local authority decides how the grave is used. Public graves do not contain headstones (Rugg).

Once you determine possible churchyards and/or cemeteries, you can search via the Internet to obtain addresses and phone numbers. If you are lucky you will come across burial and or headstone information that has been indexed by a volunteer; otherwise you will need to contact the individual cemetery/churchyard. In my experience I found many facilities will conduct a search free of charge, provided you can give the date of death. They will only conduct one search at a time. Response time can be very slow: I have waited as much as three months for a reply to my letter. I did not receive any response to my two e-mails. Do not expect a lot of information. I was able to obtain a grave number and learn that there was no headstone. A phone call can sometimes be more effective, depending on who you are talking to and how persuasive you can be.

Burial information can be obtained for free. If you don't get results try other options such as another person or office. Be persistent, don't give up it often takes several attempts to get results.

References Rugg, J. "Defining the place of burial: what makes a cemetery a cemetery?", Mortality, Volume 5, Number 3, 1 November 2000 , pp. 259-275.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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