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All Hallows’ Eve.

All Saints Day.

All Souls Day.

Day of the Dead.

The calendar here at this time of year can make some people think there’s something really macabre — or depressing — about the end of October and beginning of November.

Not The Legal Genealogist, of course.

Nor any genealogist.

After all, we tend to be a lot more comfortable with — or at least more interested in — the dead than the living.

All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and the Day of the Dead are all part of the Christian liturgical calendar, celebrated differently in different parts of the world, but all focusing on “the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.”1

It’s all part of a tradition of remembering and honoring friends and family members who have died and, in some cultures, includes gatherings of families at cemeteries to pray for their deceased loved ones.2

And we genealogists certainly aren’t afraid to go into a cemetery.3 But when we go, we don’t necessarily look for, or even know to ask for, all the records there might be.

Yes, we know to try to find the death certificates.

But there’s more to look for — often so much more.

In many areas, at many times, burial permits were required by law. In 1889, for example, the city of Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada (note: corrected with thanks to Brenda Merriman!), “wanted to detect and control contagious diseases and issued an order that required a permit for anyone that was buried in the city. Burial permits from the City of Saint John Board of Health were issued until 1919. The burial permits were for anyone who died in the city of Saint John. They were also for any citizens who were out of town when they died, or for anybody that died passing through the city for burial elsewhere.”4

Those St. John burial permits — with digital images online — called for a full identification of the deceased, the date of death, age, color, if a married woman the husband’s name, the residence, place of birth and death, occupation, name and birthplace of the father, place of interment and cause of death.5

For Wood County, Ohio, you can find the burial or removal permits for 1909-1940 online, with the deceased’s full name, age, sex, race, cause of death and place of burial.6

For San Benito County, California, some of the burial permits for 1874-1948 are online (some are only on microfilm) and list the full name of the deceased, date of death, sex, race, age, cause of death, proposed date and place of burial, undertaker, and cause of death.7

You can find the burial permits for 1916-1931 New York City available online, accessible only at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or Family History Centers or affiliated libraries.8

For Howard, Kansas, for 1938-1960, they’re on microfilm, at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.9

There are also records of funeral homes. Like those of the Pierce Brothers Simone Dubois Mortuary in San Gabriel, California, with digitized records beginning as far back as the late 1920s, some available online and some on microfilm at the FHL.10

Don’t overlook the possibility of church records of burials, such as those from St. Martins Episcopal Church in Hamilton, North Carolina, where the burial register included the date of burial, name of the deceased, age, residence, cause of death and place of burial and, often, a note about the cause of death: “Accidentally downed at Nags Head.” “Scarlet fever.” “Whooping cough & bronchitis.”11

Sometimes there are deeds to cemetery plots recorded in the land records. My own great grandmother is buried in Frederick, Tillman County, Oklahoma, and we were able to get a copy of the deed to the plot, recorded in the deed books at the county courthouse.12

And there are the records of the cemeteries themselves, including things like sexton’s records. These tends to be pretty sketchy sometimes — like the sexton’s records from West View Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia, for 1884-1933, for example, which basically list the date of burial, name of the deceased and where in the cemetery the burial was. 13

As genealogists, then, we don’t just get the death certificates — or even the death certificates and photos of the tombstones.

As part of remembering and honoring our departed family members, we need to gather up all the records of their passing.


SOURCES

Image: Google Doodle, “Day of the Dead,” 2 Nov 2017.

  1. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Halloween,” rev. 2 Nov 2017.
  2. Ibid., “Day of the Dead,” rev. 2 Nov 2017.
  3. Most of us are actually a lot more afraid we’ll miss the cemetery we really need to find. Or the grave in the cemetery we’re looking for.
  4. FamilySearch Research Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/), “New Brunswick, Saint John, Saint John, Burial Permits (FamilySearch Historical Records),” rev. 30 Oct 2017.
  5. Digital images, “New Brunswick, Saint John, Saint John, Burial Permits, 1889-1919,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 2 Nov 2017).
  6. Digital images, “Burial or removal permits, 1909-1940,” various communities, Wood County, Ohio, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 2 Nov 2017).
  7. Burial permits, 1874-1948,” San Benito County, California, digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 2 Nov 2017).
  8. Burial (or removal) permits, 1916-1931,” New York City, digital images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 2 Nov 2017).
  9. Burial permits 1938-1960, Howard, Kansas,” Family History Library microfilm 1784815 Item 1, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 2 Nov 2017).
  10. Funeral records, 1928-1981,” Pierce Brothers Simone Dubois Mortuary in San Gabriel, Cal., FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 2 Nov 2017).
  11. St. Martins Parish, Episcopal Church records of baptisms, burials, and marriages, 1868-1949,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 2 Nov 2017).
  12. Tillman County, Oklahoma, Deed Book 23: 298, City of Frederick to Cottrell, cemetery deed, 27 July 1912; County Courthouse, Frederick.
  13. Georgia, Fulton county, West View Cemetery sexton’s record, 1884-1933,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 2 Nov 2017).
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