Tracing a Burial
Material held in the Library of Birmingham may help you to find the final resting place of a person in present-day Birmingham. As there is no central index to burial records, you need to be prepared for a lengthy search of several sources, some of which may be held elsewhere.
Burial locations include:
- Church burial grounds
- Municipal and private cemeteries
- Burial grounds for specific faiths
- Crematoria (from 20th century)
Where to start
Identifying possible locations of a burial is the first step. Maps can help you to locate the nearest burial ground to where a person lived, but people were not always buried at the one nearest to their home. They may have been buried at the institution where they died or in a family grave in the place where the family originated. Locating a death certificate will provide the address of the deceased person. You can then use this to locate local churches and burial grounds.
Not all churches had their own burial ground, so the burial may have taken place in the “mother” parish. The list of Parish Registers held by the Library of Birmingham indicates which churches had burials and the covering dates for the registers held here. If a church still has a graveyard in use, but the registers have not been deposited here, you will need to contact the church directly and enquire about access.
Birmingham’s first cemeteries, Key Hill and Warstone Lane, were open by the early 1840s, followed by municipal cemeteries from the 1860s. We hold microfilm copies of the indexes to burial registers of all municipal cemeteries in Birmingham. The burial register index shows the register entry number/grave register number, the name of the deceased and the date of burial. If you locate an individual on the register, you can then contact the relevant cemetery to enquire if any further documentation has survived. Contact details for cemeteries and crematoria in Birmingham can be found at www.birmingham.gov.uk/cemeteries
The Cremation Society of England was founded in 1874, but the first cremation at Birmingham was not until the early 1900s. The indexes to cremations are still kept by the local cemeteries or crematoria so you will need to contact them directly to request a search.
Other useful sources
- If you are not able to locate a burial in a Birmingham church or cemetery, you could find some information recorded in the local newspapers. The “family announcements” columns in local newspapers are a good starting point for notices and also check these for obituaries and accounts of funerals. Some local newspapers are available to search online, for example 19th Century British Library Newspapers. The Library of Birmingham will provide access to local newspapers from the late 18th century onwards.
- Monumental Inscriptions can be really helpful as they record what is written on headstones. There is an ongoing project by family/local history societies to transcribe these, however copies of all books that have been published for Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire are held by Birmingham Archives and Heritage. They mostly cover church burial grounds, but a few cemeteries have been included. It is worth noting that people who are recorded on the gravestone may not actually be buried in the grave - for example soldiers who died abroad.
- The National Burial Index (NBI). A copy of the NBI on CD will be available in the Library of Birmingham. This includes many Birmingham parishes. Published parish registers for other areas could help you to locate entries for people who were not buried in Birmingham. These generally cover the period up to about 1812, but some coverage finishes earlier.
- National Wills and Letters of Administration. Although these will not tell you where a burial took place as standard, instructions may have been left in a will with regards to a location. They may provide useful information relating to family members who may have lived outside Birmingham and buried their loved ones close to them. We hold the National Probate Indexes from 1858 through to 1998.