Sunday, May 20, 2007

Using Funeral Homes for Genealogy

Last weekend, I wrote about connecting with cousins using the cemeteries where your ancestors are buried. Today I would like to talk about another great genealogical resource with Memorial Day connections: funeral homes.

If you have obtained your ancestors' or relatives' death certificates or obituaries or even their funeral cards, chances are you have the name of their funeral home printed somewhere on that document. Funeral homes are an excellent source of information, much like cemetery offices. Keep in mind that families often utilized the same funeral home service for several generations, which can help you find missing information on ancestors and relatives. Also, it's my understanding that funeral homes did not really come into much use until the late 1800s.

First of all, you'll need to find the funeral home. The documents mentioned above may not have the funeral home listed, or perhaps you've done a little investigating and discovered that a funeral home by that name no longer exists in that community. Don't be discouraged! Here are some tips for finding a funeral home. A great website is This link will lead you to a database of funeral homes in the United States and Canada--good for current ones in business now. If your ancestor's funeral home is not listed, look for one with a similar name in the same city (Smith Funeral Home becoming Smith-Jones Mortuary, for example). You can always call a funeral home in the area and ask where the records for the obsolete business are now located. Very often, when one funeral home went out of business or was absorbed by another, the records were archived by either another funeral home in town or by the business that took over.

Many public libraries may have old copies of the Yellow Book (not to be confused with the Yellow Pages business directory in telephone books). The Yellow Book's full name is The National Yellow Book of Funeral Directors, and by browsing through several years' worth, you can often see the evolution of a funeral home business from one name to another to sometimes even another (Smith Funeral Home > Smith-Jones Mortuary > Jones Mortuary > Jones-Brown Funeral Parlor). The Yellow Book has a website, but it is only accessible for industry practitioners (a.k.a. Death Care Professionals). You may also wish to check city directories as well. And check with the local genealogical or historical society in the area to see if they can help you locate where old funeral home records are archived. Cyndi's List of Cemeteries and Funeral Homes is also helpful.

Once you've found the funeral home, you'll want to make a call. I prefer calls rather than letters, because it's quicker and often in a conversation with the funeral home employee I will think of other questions I wish to ask. I've created a "Funeral Home Employee Interview" form on my website here. It's been amazing what I have discovered by calling a funeral home. I've also been able to get copies of death certificates and funeral cards, names and addresses of family members, occupations and causes of death of the deceased, and names and addresses of cemeteries (especially helpful when one isn't listed in a death notice). George G. Morgan has a nice list of other items that can be found in funeral home records in his article here. As we near Memorial Day weekend, I encourage you to contact an ancestral funeral home.

Happy Hunting!

Connecting with Cousins on Memorial Day