So often in family history research, records of life are examined – such as census returns, and records of birth, baptism and marriage. These build up a picture of where our ancestors were living and what they did for a living, but it is important to remember that death records can also provide valuable information.
General Registration began in 1837, and the death certificates created provide a cause of death, where the death took place as well as the usual residence of the individual. An informant’s name and address is also provided. This record can provide an idea of the circumstances of ancestor’s death: for example, it could show whether an individual had to seek medical care in a workhouse at the end of their life, or whether the death merited a post-mortem.
In turn, this could lead to other records, such as newspapers for an obituary or information on the post-mortem. The certificate could also provide clues regarding family members, such as if a married daughter acted as the informant. With information on her married surname, further research could be undertaken on her branch of the family.
Prior to 1837, parish registers are the best source of information regarding deaths, although it is actually the record of the burial which appears within the registers. After 1813 a standard amount of information is given – specifically, name, abode and age. It is the information on age which is so important to genealogists: with this knowledge, an approximate date of birth can be calculated.
Prior to 1813, it was up the clergyman how much information was recorded in the parish register. Whilst a great deal of information could be provided by the incumbent, equally the entry could simply read “John Smith, buried”. The burials of children are often noted as “John Smith the son of John Smith”, or sometimes “John Smith, infant”.
Searching for burial records within parish registers can help to confirm whether a baptism found is relevant. If a marriage took place a few miles away, and a possible baptism has been found in another village, check to make sure that the person baptised did not remain in the village: if he was buried there, then this suggests that he stayed living in the parish where he was baptised. In this way it is possible to ensure that a family tree is as acurrate as possible.