Funeral homes keep records about the individuals that they care for, making them a valuable and often overlooked resource for family historians. Funeral home records vary greatly by location and time period, but generally contain basic information about where a person died, names of surviving relatives, the dates of birth and death, and the place of burial. Some funeral homes maintain more in-depth information, and may have details on parentage, occupation, military service, organizational memberships, the clergyman's name and church, and even the name of the deceased's insurance company.
Locating the Funeral Home
To determine the undertaker or funeral home who handled the arrangements for your ancestor, check the death certificate, obituary notice, funeral card or obituary for a notation. The cemetery where your ancestor is buried may also have a record of the funeral home which handled the arrangements. City or business directories from the time period may be of assistance in learning which funeral homes were in business in the area. If all that fails, then try the local library or genealogical society for help in tracking down likely funeral homes. Once you locate a name and city, you can get the actual address of the funeral home through the American Blue Book of Funeral Directors
, or through the phone book.
Many funeral homes are small, family owned businesses with few people on staff and little time to handle genealogy requests. They are also privately-owned businesses, and are under no obligation to provide any information. The best way to approach a funeral home with a genealogical request is to write a polite letter with as many details as you can provide and the specific information for which you are searching. Offer to pay for any time or copying expenses that are incurred, and enclose a SASE for their reply. This allows them to handle your request when they have the time, and increases the chances of receiving a response - even if the answer is "no."
Out of Business?
If the funeral home is no longer in business, don't despair. Most defunct funeral homes were actually taken over by other funeral homes who will often keep the older records. Funeral home records can also be found in library or archive collections and, increasingly, online (do a search for "funeral home" plus the area in which you are searching).