The death of a family member, friend or a loved one can be a huge loss that impacts significantly on those left behind. Going to visit a grave or final resting place can provide the bereaved with a sense of connection with that lost person and some peace of mind and reassurance. If you have lost someone close or significant to you but do not know where they have been buried and are unable to visit their grave, this can feel like another loss in itself, and a denied opportunity to pay your respects or feel that you are able to grieve as you might want or need to.
If you don’t know the exact location where a person was buried, finding their grave can feel like a huge and overwhelming challenge. However, there are some steps and actions you can take to make progress with this and to make the search a little easier and more achievable.
If you know the cemetery or graveyard that the person was buried in, you can undertake a physical search of the site. If it’s a very large cemetery you may need to prepare yourself for a long hunt and ensure you have the time to undertake this as leaving without finding the burial place of the person you seek could be very disheartening. Plan a route around the premises so you have a structure to follow in your search and aren’t going back over the same ground. If you find it helpful you could make a note or plan of each area as you cover it to assist with this. You could speak with staff at the site if any are present to gain their advice on your search or larger cemeteries may even have a map or papers that indicate the burial locations of people by name. You could also call the office or local authority responsible for the site in advance as they may also have access to records of who is buried there and in which location. Look for a family name as often members of the same family are buried in close proximity to each other. If you know it, it is also helpful to have the dates of birth and death of the person that you are looking for so you can confirm it is definitely them if you find a headstone that correlates and not a person with the same name.
It is possible to search old newspaper announcements and obituaries online and these often contain details of the funeral directors responsible for the burial of the individual you are looking for. It’s helpful to have as much information as possible to hand to help you with this task as it can be quite an extensive process. Useful things to know to aid with this search are the full name (including middle names and previous names used and changed for reasons such as marriage), date of birth and date of death and the location or area that the person was resident in when they passed away; this will reduce your search radius and allow you to focus on newspapers local to the person who has died. If you manage to find a death announcement and it lists the funeral home managing the care and burial of the deceased you can contact them by email or phone to enquire about the person you are seeking as they are likely to hold records for previous funerals and burials they have undertaken and be able to provide you with the burial location.
The General Register Office in Southport in the UK holds records of every death reported in England and Wales from1837. This is a public index that contains the details of every death it lists. This index is available to search for free online using the website FreeBDM.
If you don’t have access to the internet you can also undertake this search through resources at your local library such as a microfiche. On finding the correct death record for the person you are looking for within the index it is important to note down certain information including the full name of the person who has died, the district in which the death was registered, the year and the year quarter that the death was registered in and the index volume and page number that you found the record on. You can then apply for a copy of the person’s death certificate by visiting the www.gov.uk website and looking up bmdcertificates; this will guide you through the process of ordering the certificate copy. There will be a small charge to obtain the copy.
A death certificate can be very helpful in the process of locating a person’s grave, especially if you only had limited information about that person and their death before. A death certificate will provide you with the full name of the person at the time of their death (useful if you only know the maiden or a previous name), the date of the death and where the person died which is often a full address, the age and occupation of the person at the time of their death and the reason or cause of death.
The death certificate will also provide the name of the person who reported the death, their address and their relation to the deceased. This can be perhaps the most helpful piece of information in regard to trying to locate the final resting place of an individual; this gives you a starting point and a person to try to make contact with who would be able to tell you where the grave is.
You may already know and have contact details for this person, but if you don’t you now have an address so can make contact through visiting or writing to that person if they are still alive or resident at that property. If they have also passed away or have moved home, you can still write to or visit the persons now living at the address as they may have forwarding address information or know of the solicitor who dealt with that person’s death and estate which could lead you further in your search.
There are numerous websites online that offer the facility to input information and find the location of a deceased person’s grave such as ancestry.co.uk, findmypast.co.uk or myheritage.com. These sites can access burial records and also death registers and cemetery records. They will charge a fee to do this and this is actually information that you could obtain yourself if you are willing to put in the hours, but these sites offer a convenient and more efficient “one stop shop” type approach and you may feel that the stress, time and effort saved and the accomplishment of your end goal is worth the expense.
Lastly, you could employ the services of a private investigator or professional tracing agent; these experts have access to records beyond that in the public domain and are adept and efficient at utilising them to get to answers about where people are and where people were buried quicker than would be possible for an amateur or private individual.
Again, this will incur a fee but will significantly reduce the timescale for finding out where a person is buried as well as the stress and frustration carrying out such a task yourself will likely entail.