As genealogists we are encouraged to “kill off” our ancestors. This does not mean murdering Grandma but ensuring that you get a death date for each of your deceased family. This is important if only to save you wasting your time searching for life events which never occurred. Most importantly, it helps you be sure that the person you have found is who you seek. For example the Arthur Gabriel Jacobson you thought to be your 3x great-grandfather cannot be, if he died aged 12 of pneumonia. There is also a good chance that a death certificate may throw up a piece of information you did not have such as a daughter’s married name, another relative you were not aware of, a different occupation or an interesting address.
Most beginning genealogists quickly learn about searching for death certificates in the civil registration indexes as primary sources of death information but what if you cannot find a certificate? Having found a death date many of our forebears we will also have a probated will, which can be found on many of the subscription websites. As well as certificates and wills there is an ever-increasing amount of free information becoming available on-line to lead you to the burial location, burial record and sometimes even a picture of a headstone. Shown below are just some of the records available on-line.
Deceased Online was the first central database of statutory burial and cremation registers for the UK, having started in 2008. Before its creation, to search these records you had to approach about 3,000 burial authorities and nearly 250 crematoria. Each of these local facilities independently held their own registers, often as old and possibly fragile books. Today Deceased Online holds the records of thousands of burials and are adding more records all the time. Most recently 430,000 burial records for the Manor Park Cemetery and Crematorium in East London have been added.
Find a Grave
Find a Grave is one of my most favourite sites for burials worldwide. My early ancestors emigrated from Devon, England to the United States and Find a Grave was where I found them. Not only them but also my cousin Tom Cadwell who had posted not only burial details but also photographs of my relations.
Interestingly this is the only site of this type, as far as I know, that provides an app for your smart phone so that you can photograph, map, transcribe and post a headstone on-line. On that basis, I suspect they will quickly reach their billion graves.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)
For my researches into my uncle Declan Doheny who I understood had died in the Second World War, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was my first port of call. I learnt that he had died in North Africa and the site provided the following information:
Name: Declan Doheny
Service No: 14293526
Date of Death: 26/11/1943
Regiment/Service: Royal Ulster Rifles 2nd Battalion The London Irish Rifles
Grave Reference: VII. F. 5.
Cemetery: BONE WAR CEMETERY, ANNABA
For the first time I had a date of death and an approximate 1924 date of birth for him, unsuccessfully traced so far, but maybe he lied about his age on enrolment?
War Graves Photographic Project (WGPP)
This site was a complete surprise whilst writing this blog. I googled the CWGC and noticed this site on the same page. The WGPP work with the CWGC to photograph the graves or commemorations of each soldier. Where available these can be ordered either electronically or as a printed copy.
World Burial Index
This website gives you the opportunity to search through a unique survey of thousands of Memorial Inscriptions (MIs) taken from:
1. graveyard headstones from memorials in churchyards and cemeteries;
2. inscriptions recorded from within churches and cathedrals;
3. details of church incumbents;
4. war graves and
5. war memorials.
They are also now including some Resident Lists; City of London c1638 and San Francisco, California, USA 1866 (Surnames A-G completed) amongst others.
You can get involved in the World Burial Index (WBI) project by photographing monumental inscriptions in your local church and sending the photos to the WBI. They transcribe the memorial inscription and add it and the photo to the website. As a thank you they give you FREE MEMBERSHIP to the site for a year. WBI realise that your local church may not be the site containing your ancestors, but it just might be the one that another person is looking for… and visa versa! They are also seeking photographs of monuments, churches and war memorials in any country; maybe when you are on holiday you could snap some?
Everafter was set up to help Parishes, local authorities and private organisations with their cemeteries and graveyards. It provides software for graveyard management and mapping services to record photographs and burial records for display on the Everafter website or the website of the Parishes and Community Groups who want to preserve the valuable information held by their burial ground.
As a result Everafter now house some very interesting burial records for a number of Irish cemeteries. For example the Ballynascreen Old Graveyard Sixtowns, Draperstown, Co. Derry. The Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record record the following information:
This is an early church site, with a medieval church and graveyard. The church ruin as it stands now is probably late medieval, with reused material – this is especially clear around the S door. The early site must have extended beyond the graveyard to the pasture beyond. The site has strong traditions of St. Patrick and St. Columba, but these are not well documented. It is mentioned in the Annals in 1132 and 1204. The church ruins are being conserved and consolidated to prevent further collapse.
Everafter have mapped the site and the locations of headstones in the graveyard. Each headstone links to a photograph and more information about it including where readable a transcript of the monument. In other more modern cemeteries the information is much more complete than in this very interesting case.
Finally another new website for me. I have Baker relations in Canada who I will be looking for on this new site. They currently have over 604,000 gravestone pictures in Canada.
As a genealogist who has been investigating his and many others family histories since my father died in 2002 I have come to the conclusion that I need to learn more about all the possible sources of information which may assist me to put the myriad of ancestors into their historical context. Like many of my fellow family historians I have used the internet extensively to learn about births, marriages and deaths and to find out where families were at census time. I have identified ancestors who emigrated and also immigrated and done both. I have traced occupational information through trade directories as well as the employers of ancestors which have lead me to a better understand the lives of my forebears.
Now, however, I want to learn more and in a structured approach. I have looked into a variety of options. In America you can undertake a huge variety of courses:
- The National Genealogical Society (NGS) American Genealogy: Home Study Course for a fee of $585 as a non-member.
- As a member of NGS you can take the basic Family History Course free of charge.
- There is a Boston University Certificate in Genealogical Research.
- Annually there is an Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) held for a week each June at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
- The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (NIGS) in affiliation with the Continuing Education, University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto provides web-based courses for both family historians and professional genealogists.
- The National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR) offers on-site examination and evaluation of U.S. federal records at the National Archives for one week each July.
- Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) provides for one week in January an education experience sponsored by the Utah Genealogical Society.
- Family Tree University provides online and independent study courses from the Family Tree University, an online education program from the publishers of Family Tree Magazine.
- BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy, The genealogy programs at BYU are on-site in Utah, with the exception of free independent study courses. The program offers a BA in Family History (Genealogy) as well as a certificate in Family History.
In the UK the options are more slim and whilst I enjoy “Who Do You Think You Are Live” and similar events, educational options are more limited and include the following:
- the IHGS correspondence course leading to the certificate, higher certificate and diploma in Genealogy,
- the University of Strathclyde Genealogical Certificate, Diploma and MSc in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies and
- the University of Dundee Centre for Archive and Information Studies (CAIS) Postgraduate Certificate or Masters Degree (MLitt) in Family and Local History.