LOOKING ONLINE: THE NATIONAL BURIAL INDEX
Findmypast recently increased its National Burial Index coverage – so here’s a timely reminder from Nell Darby of what the index can offer the family historian
As Findmypast extends its coverage, we lookat what this index includes, and howto access it.
We don’t all have the time or resources to go travelling the country in search of our ancestors’ last resting places; and even if we did, we’re not guaranteed to find them. Even with those closer to home, it can be tricky. For example, I know my 4x great-grandfather, John Harper, is buried in St Cross churchyard in Oxford, but it is so overgrown that I haven’t a chance of finding the correct grave, and if I did, would the headstone be in a good enough condition to read? Even so, I am still in a better position than many, in that I know where he is, and when he was buried. But if you only have vague details about your ancestor’s death, or you want confirmation of when he or she was buried, and where, then the National Burial Index can help, and you can search many of its records online.
The first thing to point out, however, is that this is a burial index only covering England and Wales – it does not include Scotland or Northern Ireland ( YFH covered Scottish burial records in issue 173, though). It started to be collated in 1994, with the first edition – containing over five million records – being published in 2001. A second edition followed in 2004. Originally in hard copy, parts have since been put online, and this summer, Findmypast added over 173,000 records to its collection of National Burial Index records, covering 190 burial grounds, cemeteries and churchyards across Wiltshire. This brings its index to over 12 million transcripts, and the latest records will be useful to those with Wiltshire ancestors who died between 1530 and 1839. It’s important to note that Findmypast’s records still do not constitute all that is in the National Burial Index, which currently contains over 18.4 million entries, covering 50 counties.
The National Burial Index primarily covers the period 1813-1850, although, as Findmypast’s latest release shows, it can include both older and more recent records (one record, for example, relates to Charles Patrick Bryce, who died in 1958; but another record, also relating to a Bryce, dates back to 1610). It gathers together information from parish registers, bishop’s transcripts, earlier transcripts and printed registers, which have been transcribed by volunteers from local history societies. The Federation of Family
History Societies (FFHS) has pointed out that the National Burial Index should be seen as a finding aid – to help you find burial records - rather than a full copy of the records, and that if you find a record relevant to your family history, it’s still worth trying to obtain the original document in order to check the accuracy of the record, and see if there are extra details recorded in it.
The sources used for the National Burial Index include not only parish registers and transcripts of printed registers, together with bishop’s transcripts, but also cemetery and crematoria records. Therefore, be careful with your searching, as if your ancestor’s burial is recorded in, say, both a parish register and another source, it might be listed as two separate entries, so there may be a bit of duplication.
The National Burial Index, which is now in its third edition, has over 200,000 records relating to the City of London alone, and over 700,000 for Cambridgeshire. Having said that, it’s important to note that it does not have every record, of course, and TNA has pointed out that this might be due to individual family history societies not being able to join the project to transcribe such records locally, perhaps due to a lack of volunteers or restrictions on accessing original records. It’s still worth checking, though, to see whether the ancestor you’re looking for is one of the 18 million included in the index, or one of the 12 million included on Findmypast.
If you can’t find a result for your ancestor using all the information you have in the search fields, try broadening the search. Findmypast suggest ticking the ‘variants’ checkbox to find other spellings of the surname;
or try using wildcards to see if the spelling of your name has been recorded differently (especially prior to the 19th century, there was little standardisation in terms of spelling). You can also try searching by county rather than a specific place. We’d also recommend omitting a year of birth, or searching for a couple of years either side of a known year, as this could be estimated, and so be a little bit different in the transcription.
The National Burial Index contains several pieces of information, as our box suggests. Firstly, and most obviously, the individual’s name is listed – you can search on Findmypast by first name and surname. The birth year of the individual is often given, although this is primarily determined by the age the individual was when he or she died, if it hasn’t been provided by other means. The year of death, date of burial and place of burial are given, together with their place of worship and religious denomination. In some cases, no birth year can be ascertained, such as with the case of Elizabeth Dagger, who was buried on 13 July 1789 at St Swithin’s in Bath. With some of the 17th century records, details are more sparse – several have no first name recorded, or birth year, so with these older records, don’t expect too much. However, if you have an unusual surname, the records can help you pinpoint where
Individual family history societies might not have joined the project, due to a lack of volunteers or restrictions on accessing records
your family were living in the 17th century, and give you some clues to go and research them further.
There are some wellknown individuals listed in the National Burial Index. Notable inclusions are members of the literary Brontë family: Emily Jane Brontë is recorded as being buried on 22 December 1848 at the church of St Michael in Haworth (its full name being St Michael and All Angels), having died aged 30 (although her age is recorded as 29 in the index). This record shows the importance of doublechecking the transcripts against originals, as Brontë was actually 30 when she died. Other members of her family recorded in the index are her older sisters Maria and Elizabeth, who were both buried in 1825, troubled brother Patrick Branwell, who died in 1848, and their father Patrick, who outlived all his children. He died aged 84, and was buried on 9 June 1861 at the church where he had been the incumbent for decades. His best-known daughter, Charlotte, also has her burial recorded in the index, under her married name of Charlotte Nicholls. She was buried on 4 April 1855 at St Michael’s.
Of course, you can access different numbers of entries from the National Burial Index from other sources other than Findmypast. GenesReunited has nearly 12 million records, available to search at http://www. genesreunited.co.uk/articles/ world-records/full-list- of-unitedkingdom-records/ births-marriagesand-deaths/deaths-and-burials/ national-burial-index-for- englandand- wales. If you’d like to look at it offline, the FFHS has details of how to order a physical copy of the index at http://www.ffhs.org.uk/ burials/ nbi-buying.php, and a search online will also give you further retailers. The National Archives also sells the index on CD for £26 – see http:// bookshop.nationalarchives.gov. uk/9780956472106/National-BurialIndex-for-England-%26-Wales-3rdEdition/. However, do note that a new edition of the index is published roughly every four years, so a hard copy or CD may be superseded at some point.
All Saints Church, Highweek, from the graveyard
The National Burial Index includes details of the burial of novelist, poet, and famous sibling Emily Brontë (left) in 1848
The National Burial Index now contains more than 18.4 million entries