News and Blog

The latest news and information from the Achievements team.

  1. Missing a burial record?

    Researching family history is extremely satisfying when each ancestor can be successfully “hatched, matched and dispatched”.  But it is not always possible to “dispatch” all ancestors.  General Registration after 1837 means that searches of registered deaths can be made of the entire country, in case a family member died far from their home.  But before 1837, researchers are reliant on church burial records.  If an ancestor is not found in the parish in which they married or produced children, searches for burials records can be rather open ended.

    It could be that an accident or misadventure occurred far from home, which means that no burial record will ever be found, particularly if those burying an individual had no idea who he or she was.  Two examples found this week by our beedy-eye researchers illustrate this scenario well.

    In 1811, an explosion in a gunpowder mill killed one Thomas Wiltshire, who was buried on 16th December.  The clergyman helpfully recorded that “the names of the others are inserted from memory as no proper account was hand written”.  This listing is reliant on the clergyman’s memory, and no forenames are given.

    In the same parish in 1820 “a man unknown” was found floating in the local River. He was estimated as being 45 years old, and was wearing a green jacket and leather waistcoat with a blue and white striped shirt. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we’d ever know exactly what our ancestors were wearing on the day of their death to establish whether this man could be relevant to any search!

    Both these notes in the burial register are good examples of how the burial records of our ancestors can be lost to time, and how despite exhaustive searches not all genealogy can be neatly tied up!




  2. Discovery of Archbishop’s Tomb at Lambeth.

    Many of use struggle to find the burial place of all our ancestors but you would expect that this would not be true for those in positions of power and influence. The front page of the Sunday Telegraph has a story on the accidental discovery of tombs belonging to five former archbishops of Canterbury by builders carrying out refurbishment work near Lambeth Palace.

    A hidden chamber at St Mary-at-Lambeth church contained 30 lead coffins piled on top of each other, with an archbishop’s mitre resting on one of them. Closer inspection revealed metal plates bearing the names of five former archbishops of Canterbury, dating back to the early 17th Century.

  3. Tracing ancestors in death records

    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.



December 2018
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