Break the Brick Walls: Parish burial Records

Break the Brick Walls: Parish burial Records

This month Jenny Jones looks at parish burial records

Jenny Jones, Retired nurse with over 30 years of experience in family history

Jenny Jones

Retired nurse with over 30 years of experience in family history

Finding a burial in parish registers is notoriously difficult if the date of death is unknown. First, you should search GRO deaths from the last date the person was located, for example from a previous census or from births of children. Use data website for GRO deaths from 1837 and many parish register collections, plus census searches.

If the place of burial is unknown, use Phillimore’s Atlas and Index to Parish Registers (available from to find all relevant parish churches.

Prior to 1812, general registers entries gave only first name, surname and date of burial, not death; or, for example, ‘Mary, wife of John Simpson’; or, for children under 21 years, ‘Robert, son of John Simpson’. It was left to the vicar’s discretion as to how much information was recorded. Many registers were written in Latin up to 1733.

After 1812, burials were separated into uniform registers which offered the deceased’s abode and age at death, although this was often inaccurate. This printed form allowed no room for vicars to add their own informative comments.

If parish registers are missing, other resources are available:

  • Consult local record offices for any burial indexes transcribed by family history groups. The National Burial Index is available on CD from archive retailers.
  • County record offices may have Bishops’ Transcripts (BTs), although these were not compiled during the commonwealth 1641-1660 and the general survival rate is patchy. Beware that a diocese did not always coincide with the county boundary.
  • Monumental Inscriptions [MIs] are now widely published, or available on CD-ROM, and online, see more at inscriptions
  • Cemetery records may help to locate a burial – beware that a grave may be re-used after 75 years and only the later burial will be shown on the gravestone.
  • Death duty records contain images of all wills and administrations attracting death duty in England and Wales 1796-1903. ‘County court’ death duty registers from 1796-1811 are online at the National Archives
  • If a burial cannot be found in Anglican churches, consider Nonconformist registers available at
  • Try newspapers for death notices or obituaries.
Transcripts is an essential resource for tracking down parish registers without having to visit individual county record offices around the country. The map at the left shows (in purple) the counties currently covered by searchable editions of old printed books of parish registers at the site – this collection also covers parts of Scotland and Ireland. The right-hand map shows counties where new transcriptions of original registers are available at the site; note that there are also some records available for Scotland. Check back regularly as the coverage is ever-growing!

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