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Cremation Records and Tracing Your Family History

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 30 Jun 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Genealogy Cremation Cremation Register

To those familiar with the idea of Vikings having funeral pyres for their dead, or the practice in India, it might come as a shock to learn that the first crematorium in England didn't open until 1885 (it was in Woking). What spurred it was an 1884 trial, following the cremation of a Welshman by his father. He was tried for it and acquitted; because there was actually no law stating that cremation was illegal (actually the Cremation Society had already been running for 10 years at this point).

By the end of the 19th century, there were three crematoria in England, although that figure quickly rose, and since the late Sixties more than half the people dying in England and Wales have been cremated.

The ashes are the property of the family, who can dispose of them as they wish - which can be anything from scattering in the country to being kept at home in an urn. It was only in 1944 that the Anglican Church allowed ashes to be buried in a churchyard (although the 1902 Cremation Act gave clergymen the right to refuse a funeral service for those being cremated unless the ashes were to be buried in consecrated ground). In that case it was entered in the church burial register. There have even been rare instances of ashes being scattered on football pitches, although clubs don't publicise this.

Cremation Records and Burial Register

The cremation records give the same information as a burial register. Permission to cremate has to be given by a medical authority attached to the crematorium (some crematoria are private, others under the control of the local authority).

However, you're not going to be able to see those records. Because they might contain information about people still alive, access is restricted to those appointed by the Home Secretary, the Environment Minister or the top police officer. That said, you can still get the information: it will simply be provided orally, at the discretion of the registrar of the crematorium, although it will be probably only be given in the case of records old enough that confidentiality isn't a factor.

Obituaries and Death Notices

Given that you might not be able to obtain cremation records, then another route to your answers is through obituaries. They may not be as common now as they once were, but they still exist for people of note at local, regional, and national levels, and death notices can still be widely found.

Obituaries have appeared in print for the best part of 300 years (the oldest are from The Times and The Gentleman's Magazine). In some cases they can prove to be the only surviving notice of burial or cremation, at least that you can access. However, it wasn't until the latter part of the 19th century that death notices became very common. Check with a central library close to where your ancestor lived to determine the local paper of the period, and to discover where you can browse old copies. A death notice will probably include time and place of death and interment or cremation, as well as naming survivors. If there's an obituary, it's an excellent way to learn much more about your ancestor - their civic and family lives. If you know the year of death (or an even closer range), then you should be able to find an obituary (if it exists) without too much trouble. If your ancestor was in a specific trade (a butcher, for example) you might try old trade journals, and parish magazines sometimes also carry obituaries of ardent parishioners.

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@Wee stitt - sorry to hear this. The church will have a record if she has a head stone. I hope you find it, if it gives you comfort. Mil
ABJ - 4-Jul-17 @ 2:43 PM
My mum passed away when i was about 5 im am now nearly 40 the subject never gets spoke about in front of me. She was creamated and i know where i went once to see if i could find if there was anything in the gatden of remembrance but the place was closed andfound it very difficult i was wondering would there be a record of this basically what can i do if anyone can help or send me in the right direction it would mean alot thank you in advance
Wee stitt - 30-Jun-17 @ 7:20 PM
I am experiencing similar problems as 'Bambi' Where can I record the disposal of my late wifes' ashes? I DO NOT REQUIRE TICKETS FOR THE TEST MATCHES!!!!!!
Cambus - 17-Nov-13 @ 9:35 AM
I am experiencing problems trying to enter the disposal of my late wifes' ashes. according to a pamphlet entitled " THE ASHES REGISTER". When I enter the details I constantly receive all the latest cricket news!!!!!!!! Can you please advise?
Bambi - 31-Aug-13 @ 10:43 AM
Cremation only really became popular in the 20th century - the fact there there were only three crematoria at the end of the 19th century highlights that very well. So when looking back into Victorian times, you should really only check crematoria records as a source of last resort, because the likelihood of finding the names there is small.
David - 30-May-12 @ 2:09 PM
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