Over the past few weeks there have been many requests from family researchers trying to locate the burial place of their ancestors. Those researchers have often managed to locate a reference in a Burial Register which suggests that the person they are seeking is buried in a churchyard or cemetery associated with that Burial Register.
Sometimes this is not the case. An entry in a Burial Register indicates that a service took place in that Church, but it does not necessarily mean that the burial took place locally. Nor does it mean that the Burial can be located under the surname that is in the Register.
For example a young child may be buried with its maternal grandparents, and the entry in any Cemetery records could read “Smith, child” referring to the surname of the grandparents, rather than “Jones, child”.
In addition a Burial Register may belong to a whole Parish, rather than to an individual Church. So the individual could be buried in any one of the cemeteries within that parish, especially in a rural area.
Another problem regularly arises when the Cemetery or Church yard records are not well kept. Maybe the sexton expected someone else to do the paperwork, and saw his job as only doing the digging. Plans and plot books for cemeteries also suffer from lack of information. If there are three Smith families in an area and the plot book or plan only has the surname Smith, it becomes a very difficult task for their descendants to work out which Smith plot belongs to them.
The lack of a headstone adds another dimension. In early Canterbury many families were on the move, re-locating to wherever their work took them. They may not have been in a place long enough to arrange a headstone, or it may have quite simply been too expensive.
Sadly, young children were often not named in Cemetery records. Sometimes a part of the Cemetery was set aside for them, often in an area near trees, or at the end of a row. As time has gone by families have left an area, and what was well known verbally in the past has been forgotten or not passed on to the next generation.
A second or third marriage can also be a complicating factor. Although the family may have gathered to farewell a member of their family in one place, there may be a request that a burial or ashes are to be with a former spouse.
If luck is on the side of the researcher, sometimes a plot number is recorded in the Burial Register, however the complication arises when Parishes re-do their plot plans. Some Burial Registers have up to three versions of plot numbers in the margins, none of which match the plan in the Parish Office or the Diocesan Archives.
So when trying to track down a burial location, it is always important to think outside the square. Why is the individual not where you expect them to be? Can another branch of the family provide the answer? Will time and more information finally provide the answer or will this become one of the proverbial genealogical “brick walls”?