Using Funeral Home Records for Genealogy

Once you have found the obituary for your ancestor’s death, take note of the name of the funeral home that handled the arrangements. Then, contact them to see what information they have in their records regarding your ancestor.

Funeral homes keep detailed records about the individuals that they provide service to  and care for. Funeral home records can be a valuable resource. The funeral home will have a copy of the “funeral card” or the card given to those who attend the service, a copy of the death record they issued for the family and information on the next of kin. They will also have a list of all of the newspapers that the obituary for your ancestor was published in.

If an autopsy was performed on your ancestor, the funeral home can supply you with the information for the name and address of the coroner as well, which will allow you to contact that resource for detailed information and details surrounding the cause of death. The funeral home can provide you with the name of the deceased’s family physician, the name of the insurance company, (if the insurance company paid for any part of the funeral), the name of the clergy that performed the service, and often they can provide you with information about where to find a will for the deceased.

During the interview conducted by the funeral home at the time that the funeral arrangements were made, a number of details are provided. These may include:

  • education
  • church affiliation
  • military service
  • membership in clubs, lodges or other organizations

Plans for the service might include:

  • the place, time and location
  • the names of any pallbearers (and perhaps their relationship to the deceased).
  • music played
  • readings
  • prayers
  • speeches or eulogies

You will learn whether there was a burial or a cremation, the date of the burial or cremation and if cremated, the disposition of the cremains (whether they were buried or perhaps given to a family member for safekeeping etc).

Don’t be shy. Start writing letters requesting the information you are looking for regarding your ancestor. This information will provide you with the details you need to help “flesh out” who your ancestor really was.

Always include the offer of paying for photocopying and mailing of the information (most of these resources will not charge for this information, but will be pleased that you acknowledged their time). Include an e-mail address so that if possible, the records can be scanned and sent to you electronically. Also by providing this contact information, the funeral home can contact you with any outstanding questions that they would like clarified before they send out the final reports to you.

Additional Resource: While you are researching funeral home data, you can also Search Obituaries at Genealogy Bank

25 thoughts on “Using Funeral Home Records for Genealogy”

  1. This sounds great; but what if a company has gone out of business? What happens to their records?

  2. I’ve got a couple of funeral home records for my family and I frequently contact funeral homes. Although, probably not often enough. Thank you for this post reminding all of us of the value of these records.

  3. Unfortunately not all funeral homes reply or will provide the information. Mores the pity. They would be able to fill in so many missing details for people.

  4. I had a 1st cousin pass away and his paternal side of family was not notified of his death. His mother’s side of family handled arrangements, etc. Thru his obituary I contacted the Funeral/Cremation Home to inquire about whether he was cremated, or where he may have been buried so I could pay respects. I explained how he was related to me and that I did not know he had passed until I saw the obituary published
    . The Funeral Home refused to give me any information and I do not know how to contact maternal side of family. Both of his parents and brother are deceased, so there is no immediate family to contact.

  5. I am going to try this if possible. I want to know a lot more about my deceased ancestor’s.

  6. I work for a funeral home in the USA. Most funeral homes have websites where obituaries are available online (2003 to present). I do think the privacy act does come into factor… similar to how medical records are private. I have found that the very old records on hand do not have the quantity of information to what we keep are required to keep on file now ….so many rules and regulations. I also have found that the really old funeral obituaries were written by newspaper columnists for the local newspapers and death certificate copies (no copiers then) were not kept on record. It doesn’t hurt to inquire, but remember, most funeral homes and their staff are busy serving families who have lost a loved one.

  7. Toot44, I’m so sorry you had that experience, but the funeral industry is big business and they rely on repeat business. That is, if the family likes how they put daddy away, they may come back when momma’s turn comes. Often burying all family members for decades. Unfortunately, if the family only wants certain people to know, then the rest of the world will remain in the dark. If you are close enough to go there in person, you might appear on their doorstep and ask if they will put you in touch with whoever made the arrangements.

  8. I don’t work for a Funeral Home, but am a Health Care Professional and Family Historian, have spent some time studying End of Life Preparation, collect funeral programs, and even had the opportunity to speak before our local Morticians Association about the need to preserve their records. The “Privacy Act” that Deb mentioned is called HIPPA, and is the same “Privacy Act” that Nurses, Doctors and other Health Care Professionals are governed by. The penalty for VIOLATING HIPPA IS $5,000 PER OCCURRENCE, and they may risk losing their license as well! So while many funeral homes may actually want to help you, they tread a very fine line as to what they are “supposed” to share with you.

    Unfortunately because of the ever increasing cost of a funeral or memorial service, many people cut corners anyway they can. Sometimes the “funeral program” is one of the things sacrificed. Especially when no one in the family/making arrangements has computer skills, and the whole thing must be left to a printer, who charges extra when it is not Camera Ready. Another thing to go is the newspaper obituary or death notice. An in depth obituary in a major urban newspaper may easily cost $100 or more, and while the death notice is free, it is dependent upon available space and usually just gives the name and age of the deceased, death date, where arrangements will be held and by whom, and immediate next of kin, like a spouse, or parents (not necessarily both). Yes “most” Morticians now have a website which includes obituaries, but that may or may not be a complementary service. Suppose the person you’re looking for was memorialized by a establishment with NO WEBSITE, or the website was “under construction/repair” at the time of the decedent’s passing.

  9. Finally, let me say when a Funeral Home goes out of business, or when they move their older records (to make space) those records are supposed to go to their State Licensing Board, but sometimes the records never get there, in which case they are lost. Several members of our local chapter of AAHGS went to the meeting of the local morticians association, and asked them to consider donating the old records to the local historical society with instructions as to who can see what and when. Thus the records would be available to researchers at some point in time, without violating HIPPA, and their staff would not have deal with the researchers.

  10. Karen, I totally understand about funeral home records, my DAR chapter has just completed scanning over 80,000 funeral home index cards, which took me a long time to get permission and access to the cards.

  11. Cool Margie,

    Don’t think my DAR chapter has ever done anything with Funeral Home Records. I’ll have to ask. What is your chapter? and Where are they located?

    Also, a friend has family who runs a local Funeral Home, and they loaned her the old records with the understanding they would be scanned, a digital copy be given to her, info NOT made public, and the originals be returned after a certain period of time. She made an agreement with Family Search, and they did just that.

  12. Toot44, just thought of something. Search for your cousin on Find-a-Grave. For some major cemeteries, EVERYONE INTERRED THERE has indexed by someone or group of persons. You don’t have to know where, just do a name search, add dates to narrow down the search. If you find him, at least you’ll know where to go to pay your respects, an the cemetery may be a little more cooperative.

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