African American Funeral Home Records
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Funeral home records may give details about the deceased, such as his or her death and burial date and place, birth date and place, parents, spouse, maiden name, other family members, and religion. The records also indicate those responsible for the funeral expenses. It is common for a funeral home to include a biography or obituary and the names and residences of surviving relatives. Morticians frequently file the death certificate and have a copy of the obituary published in one or more newspapers as requested by the family.
Some funeral home records start as early as the mid-1800s, although many early records have been lost or destroyed. Old records may be in the custody of a funeral home currently in business in the area, because mortuaries that changed hands or relocated frequently saved the old records. Some records have been given to local libraries or societies. An example of funeral home records is:
Funeral home personnel are generally familiar with the locations of active cemeteries and sextons or caretakers you can contact. Telephone calls or personal visits are generally more effective than letters.
For references to nationwide funeral home directories, see African American Cemeteries. Funeral homes in the area where you live usually have a current copy of these books.
Use funeral home records to:
- Find an accurate death date and place
- Find the names of your ancestor's parents (especially helpful for married women)
- Learn where your ancestor is buried
Few pre-1880 funeral home records are available. Records vary widely, but they may contain:
- Full name and age at death
- Death date and place (town, county, state)
- Birth date and place (town, county, state)
- Names of parents, including mother's maiden name
- Birthplaces of parents (town, county, state)
- Sex, race, occupation, or Social Security number
- Home address
- Marital status (single, widowed, married, divorced)
- Cause of death (if the death was caused by accident, murder, or rare disease, there may be a newspaper report)
- Name of person who provided information for the record (funeral records are more reliable when the person is a close relative of the deceased)
- Name of person who paid the mortician's bill (usually a relative or friend)
- Name and religion of clergyman who performed the funeral (leads to church records)
- Cemetery name and place (city, county, state) and burial plot number (this can help you find gravestone and cemetery records)
Searching Funeral Home Records
Before searching funeral home records, you must know:
- The full name of the individual at death (for women this includes the married surname)
- The date of death or burial
- The town of death or burial
Following is a copy of the funeral home record for Simon A. Haley, Horton's Funeral Service, Washington, D.C., 21 August 1973.
If the funeral home won't send you a record that lists living relatives, ask the clerk to photocopy the record and cross out the names of living relatives before sending you a copy.