Learning about an ancestor’s death can be key to learning about the person’s life. Records about death can help confirm someone’s identity and the identities of relatives. Some records may give you clues about a person’s circumstances or reveal stories about him or her.
At the recent BYU Family History and Genealogy Conference, British research expert Raymon Naisbitt outlined seven types of England death records. It’s worth looking into several of them for each ancestor, since they may reveal different details about your family history.
Newspaper Obituaries and Family Notices
Beginning in the 1700s, you may find family notices in British newspapers. Family notices of deaths were placed in local newspapers to announce the passing of relatives. Obituaries, or brief narratives about a person who has died, may also have been published.
FamilySearch has partnered with findmypast to provide free access to a growing collection of family notices from the British Newspaper Archive and a related collection of obituaries, both dated 1800–1900. Read more about finding family notices in England newspapers.
Civil Death Registrations
Beginning in July 1837, the British government began civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths. Death certificates generally included the deceased’s full name, sex, occupation (for adults) or a parent’s name (for children), as well as the death date and place, age at death, and cause of death. The identity of the person who provided information for the record was also often included, along with their relationship to the deceased. In the earlier decades of civil registration, not all events were recorded. Between 1874 and 1927, stillbirths were included in England death records.
You can search the England and Wales Death Registration Index, 1837–2007 for free. Here’s what a sample index entry looks like:
Use the information in this index to order a copy of the actual death registration, which may contain additional details about an ancestor. The registration record for the above person, shown below, includes a more detailed death date and place, his occupation and cause of death, and the informant’s identity.
Parish Burial Records
The Church of England began recording burials in parish records in1538 and began sending copies to bishops in 1598. Either the parish record or the bishop’s transcript—or both—may survive. Records may include the name of the deceased, burial date, sex, and the name of a parent (for the deaths of children) or husband (if the deceased was a married woman). Beginning in 1812,parishes kept separate burial registers. These registers also included the age,residence, and occupation of the deceased.
The free FamilySearch index England Deaths and Burials, 1538–1991 includes more than 15 million names. A growing number of parish records and bishop’s transcripts are available online on FamilySearch.org and other major genealogy websites. Read these tips for locating the records you need.
It’s not easy to find the tombstones of many ancestors, especially before about 1850. Many markers have worn smooth and are illegible. Others have broken. Some have disappeared into the ground or become covered by foliage.
Fortunately, many transcriptions have been made. Inscriptions may include information not recorded elsewhere, such as the relationships of several people buried in a family plot, a person’s military service, or childbirth as a cause of death.
Begin your search for English monumental inscriptions in the FamilySearch Catalog. If you know the name of the parish, you can also enter it in the name of your web browser, along with the phrase “monumental inscriptions.”
Civil Cemetery Registers
Cemeteries owned by local governments began operating in the1850s. Public cemeteries created registers that recorded the purchasing and use of burial plots. Details about people interred in the cemetery may include the name,age, sex, residence, religious affiliation, date and place of death, date of burial, exact location of burial site, and the owner of the plot in which they were buried.
Deceased Online is a growing database of burial and cremation records for the British Isles. You may be able to find other registers through online searches, by contacting local archives and libraries, or by searching the FamilySearch Catalog.
Estate or Death Duty Records
Starting in 1796, when someone died and left behind an estate, a duty (or tax) had to be paid. These duties were noted in registers, along with the deceased’s name, address, occupation, death date, and names and relationships of all heirs—even heirs who may not be named in a will. You may also find follow-up notes pertaining to later residences, marriages, and deaths of spouses and other beneficiaries.
Search the Index to Death Duty Registers 1796–1903 on findmypast.com. Note the name of the court mentioned in the index and the folio or entry number. If no number was given, no tax was due, so there won’t be a death duty register entry. But if there is and the record is from before 1858, search for original estate or death duty registers in the FamilySearch Catalog. In the keyword field, enter the words “death duty,” and look for the name of the correct court in the record title. Otherwise, you will need to visit the National Archives (in the United Kingdom) to see the register books.
Probate (or estate) records are some of the oldest England death records available. Some surviving records date back to the 1300s and 1400s. Probate records detail the division of a person’s estate after his or her death. You may find the date of death, names and relationships of relatives and heirs, a description of the deceased person’s effects, and more.
People didn’t have to be wealthy to leave behind estates, and English probate records are well-indexed online. However, it may require a little effort to find the records you want. Follow instructions for searching for English wills and probate records in the FamilySearch wiki. From 1858 onward, there was one national database for English wills. This index can be searched on FamilySearch.org.
There are more types of England death records, but these seven are some of the most common. Start searching for your English ancestors’ death information in one of the record types listed above. Not sure where to start? Try typing a name in the form below.
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The subject of this article and some of its material was taken from Raymon Naisbitt’s class, “England Records beyond the Grave,” at the 2019 BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy.
The BYU Conference on Family History and Genealogy is held annually and offers classes for genealogists and others wanting to learn about their ancestors. Keep an eye on the BYU conference page for announcements about next year’s schedule and when registration opens.