Canadian Funeral Home and Cemetery Records (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian Local Histories and Special Collections by Michelle LaBrosse-Purcell, B.Sc., MLIS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Once you have the obituary, or if you can find a headstone in a cemetery, it’s time to see if you can squeeze just a bit more information out of what you already have. If the funeral home is still in business, they are a great first place to try. To find out which funeral home was used, you usually have to check the obituary. In some small towns, where there were only one or two funeral homes, the task is much easier. If the funeral home is no longer in business, you can still check to see if their records have been deposited at the local archives or with the local historical society, or passed on to another funeral home (sometimes funeral homes merge, in which case the records from one home are passed to another one).
Depending on the regulations at the time, some funeral homes have copies of the death certificates and even the autopsy reports (if an autopsy was done). You can also find out who the next-of-kin was, the address of the deceased, etc.
While researching my great-grandfather’s death, I was very fortunate once to find that not only did a funeral home still exist, but it still had the records from the 1936 funeral. In addition, the cemetery had records of who was responsible for the payments on the cemetery plot. Here I was in for a surprise – it wasn’t my great-grandfather’s widow or children who paid for the grave. Instead, it was my great-grandfather’s younger brother. So, not only did I find out how much the family was willing to spend on the burial of my great-grandfather, I was able to get the address (for the cemetery’s billing purposes) of his younger brother as well.
Most cemetery offices are located in the same place as the cemetery itself. If the cemetery is part of a Church burial ground, the records may be still at the church, or may have been transferred to the church archives or head office.
In some cities, the care of cemeteries has been turned over to the municipality – for example, in Edmonton, Alberta, the city cemeteries are run by Parks and Recreation. In each case, it’s up to you to find where the cemetery records are kept. It is well worth it to take the time to explore this option—you might find that missing piece of family information you’ve been looking for!
For the researcher not aware of exactly where a relative is buried, indexes can make the job of finding a person much easier. Most genealogical societies in Canada now have projects underway whereby they have members go cemetery by cemetery, copying inscriptions off of gravestones. Be aware, however, that if a stone or marker was not erected individuals may be missed. These records are then made into books or CDs that are sold by the society, and can usually be found in libraries and archives. For example, in Ottawa, Beechwood Cemetery Burial Records…, 1873–1900, the Interment Registry Index, 1901–1930, and Interment Registry Index, 1931 –1955 have all been published by the local Ontario Genealogical Society Branch. By the way, if you’re interested in computerized cemetery records, there are a number of places on the Internet you can now turn to if you want to find a relative. Without creating a book-length list, as more and more sites are springing up every day, here are just a few of the many Canadian sites you can check:
- British Columbia Cemetery Finding Aid
- Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid
- Edmonton Cemeteries
- Interment Net (with links to many Canadian sites)
Finally, some cemetery historical records are now online. For example, a searchable index and images of the record books of the Toronto Trust Cemeteries from 1826 to 1935 and covering York General Burying Ground (Potter’s Field), Prospect, Mount Pleasant and Necropolis Cemeteries in Toronto are available through FamilySearch or some for-pay sites. Included in these records most often are the deceased’s age and place of birth, the cause and location of death, the name and address of the next-of-kin, and sometimes interesting additional remarks such as a mother and child who both died in childbirth were buried in the same casket or that, in 1919, $2.00 extra was paid to make the grave extra deep and that, if a second casket was buried there at a later date, there was to be no extra charge.
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