Beyond Civil Death Records

A few months ago, I wrote briefly that there was a multitude of records made at the time of death, which may record key evidence on where in Ireland your ancestor was from. I got a spirited response. What is there beyond civil death records?

Newspapers publish more than one kind of death notice. There are the death notices published immediately after the death, to alert family and friends to when and where the funeral mass and burial will take place. They published obituaries or appreciations for people prominent in their profession – you will find obituaries for politicians and clergymen of all denominations, but you may also find an obituary for ‘Ordinary-Joes’ where they were members of a society – be it a Beefsteak Club or the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

Newspapers also publish ‘in memoriam’ notices usually on the anniversary of death, often for decades. They may provide vital evidence concerning the deceased, but also to trace living relatives.

In my experience, where children were native-born to immigrant-parents, it’s very common to find an Irish townland or village address on the parent’s tombstone. Putting up a gravestone is often the last way that an adult child can honour a much-loved and missed parent. 

Many local history societies have compiled and published gravestone inscriptions. The Journals for the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland, and Cantwell's Memorials of the Dead which are excellent for Wicklow and Wexford. Nothing beats your own research however - and I've found family graves not recorded in surveys, by visiting the cemetery. Sometimes a gravestone inscription is eroded by time, or covered in lichen-growth: I once waited an hour and a half for the sun to cross the sky, so that the shadows fell in a particular way on the gravestone. Do what the archaeologists do, and bring white chalk with you. If you have no chalk, a handful of grass rubbed across the stone inscription can bring it into relief without damaging the stone. 

Burial records can provide a research thread to other family members. It may sound a bit grim, but you should always check to see who else is buried in the same plot. Most plots accommodate up to three adult burials, and it’s worth knowing the name and date of burial of anyone else buried there, as a rule of thumb, only immediate family are ever buried together.


I'm interested to hear from all and any of you, what records surrounding the rituals around death and burial have you used in your family history?


By Fiona Fitzsimons 


By Caitlin Bain


7 months ago

Hi Fiona,
I came up lots of dead ends in the search for the burial place of my great grandmother Julia O'Farrell, née Whelan of Enniscorthy. She lived in Enniscorthy all her life with the exception of the last 5 years or so when she moved to Limerick with her son to help rear his family. He was located there for a few years for work - he was a superintendent for the Great Southern Railway. She died Limerick in August 1940 and although I had a death certificate I couldn't find any burial record for her in Limerick. I was thankful for this as we had no other family in Limerick and the thought of her alone in a graveyard in Limerick was awful.

I got in touch with a lovely man in Enniscorthy who had done an inventory of St Mary's in Enniscorthy but he couldn't find her there.

In desperation, I contacted a priest in Limerick and he advised me to check with some funeral homes as they had been there since in mid 1800s.

Stuck gold with one of them. They rang to advise me that they had the day book open for August 1940 and they had all the details of her removal (by all accounts, a great send-off which I was thrilled to find) and her funeral which stated that she had been taken by motorised hearse to Enniscorthy - yipee !!!

He also stated that motorised hearses were very unusual at the time and petrol was scare as it was during the war. So was delighted that they went to so much effort to bring her back to Enniscorthy.

So, back to my contact who reviewed again all the records and we eventually found her in St Mary's in an unmarked grave. Which was odd considering they had gone to so much trouble to bring her there. So I got a plaque made up to mark her grave.

Thought the use of funeral home records mentioned by the priest was a great idea which you don't often hear about when doing family history research.

Warm wishes

Sandra Taylor

7 months ago

Sandra, I'm delighted you found Julia's last resting place. Serious kudos to you, it sounds like you undertook a very thorough search. All the best,

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