We have been dealing with the artifacts of death in the last articles. I promise that we will move on to happier times soon. But before we move backwards in time to document our ancestors life, there is one death record repository that can provide you with a possible wealth of information. Learning how to garner information from a funeral home will serve you well when researching ancestors further in the past. In eras when death certificates were not required or possibly lost to disasters and wars, these records may fill the gaps in your documentation.
First, some facts about funeral homes. Many are family owned and have been passed down for generations. The same mortuary is often used by many family members. Small towns may have only one funeral home. All of these facts aid your search for the funeral home of your ancestor.
There is a trail of clues you can follow. The name of the funeral home is often noted on the death certificate, in a n obituary, on a funeral card, or in the cemetery records. Fo r those of you unfamiliar with them, funeral cards are just that, cards that are passed out at funerals to family and friends that contain a small amount of information on and a tribute to the deceased. They are usually ordered from the funeral home. Again, ask family members if they have one of these momentoes. Death certificates, obituaries and cemeteries, I covered in previous articles. You will need to have some information on your ancestors death before approaching a funeral home.
If you keep coming up short on information about your ancestor's death, there are still clues that can be followed. Has your family used the same funeral home many times? If they have, and it is a home that has been in the same hands for years, they may be familiar with your family. This is also true in a small town, where funeral information between homes would be more known.
When you have narrowed your search, or have pinpointed the exact location, how you approach the funeral home will be important. They are private businesses that are not required to give you any information. The best way to make contact is with a polite letter explaining what you are looking for. A letter allows them to look for the record when they have time. So, they are apt to be more friendly toward your request, than if they had felt pressured by your unexpected appearance. Offer to pay for any time or copying expenses incurred. Ask if the records have been microfilmed by the local library or historical society, particularly older records.
Mortuaries vary greatly in the amount and retention of the information that they have. Older records may not have recorded much information, or they may have. Some have organized systems, others not. The more recent the death, the more information will be on the record, and the more easily accessible the record will be.
It is a source worth getting. You will never know what surprise information you will find. It may contain copies of other records, such as birth, military, or marriage. It will give clues to the life of your ancestor- who arranged his burial, was a funeral service given in a church, how much was spent, etc. As with all information given by a second source (most will have been provided by whoever is arranging the funeral), be aware of possible errors.
When searching for out of town mortuaries FuneralNet.com will help you locate an address. It is an index to funeral homes in the United States. For further help, you can post a request for information at Roots-L, a genealogy mailing list database. Click on the state that you are searching. There, you can search and post.
I wish you the best of luck in finding this often underused, but fascinating source.