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10 Tips to Obtain Funeral Home Records_Washington County Genealogy_PAGenWeb Project

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by Judith Florian 

In the 1800s, Undertakers and Funeral Homes often kept very scant records.  Most often, it was some type of ledger book with short entries, or another type of filing system.  

As furniture making businesses split from the undertaking business, the owners began keeping more detailed records.  By the mid-1940s on, you might find some type of form used.  But these still often contained little information.

TIP 1:  There are many places that may list a funeral home name.  Check these sources first:

  • death certificate
  • newspaper obituary
  • newspaper funeral notice
  • funeral card / funeral home card
  • a church's or pastor's list/book/ledger of funeral services and burials officiated
  • the cemetery - most have records
  • family scrapbook
  • family's old calendars
  • family letters
  • family recollections and family stories

TIP 2:  Once you find a Funeral Home Name, you can get an address by:

  • Searching a local telephone directory
  • Searching the Internet for a business website
  • Searching the Internet for a "411", Phone Look-Up, or business listing
  • Searching the Internet for: Map+funeral home name, which often produces an address

TIP 3: For OLD / CLOSED funeral homes, you can find who bought the business by calling or writing to:

  • the local genealogical society
  • the local historical society
  • the local public library
  • posting to a Genealogy Message Board or list for that locality
  • Also check online genealogy databases.  Some have published records from defunct homes.

TIP 4:  Funeral homes are NOT obligated to provide any information from their records.  The best method is to WRITE to the funeral home.  Give as much information as possible, including (as best you know):

  • Name of the deceased
  • The deceased's birth date and death date
  • The deceased's person's Social Security number
  • The deceased's last address (# street, City, State)
  • The next-of-kin who was likely in charge of arrangements.
  • The name of the spouse (who may not have been in charge).
  • The names of children or immediate family (such as parents of a deceased minor).
  • A copy of your ID -- many places increasingly want to know "who" is asking for info.
  • A copy of the person's death certificate if you have it.
  • Copies of anything else that could help the funeral home find the correct record.

Most funeral homes have an organized system for old and current deaths, and records are often passed along to the new owner when a home is sold.

TIP 5:  Send a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE), business size, with at least 1 or 2 stamps in case there are several pages.

TIP 6: Offer to pay for copies.  Ask them to include an invoice with the copies; Remit the money quickly to show you are serious in your offer to pay costs.  Send a thank-you note for whatever you receive, even if only 1-page.

TIP 7:  The information given to the funeral home came from a family member designated to be "in charge" of the funeral planning.  As such, the information given was only as good as the Informant gave; Informants often made mistakes, got dates wrong, or didn't know certain facts.  Otherwise, the person at the funeral home could have also made mistakes.  Always consider these records as unreliable, secondary sources, except for the date of the funeral and burial location.

TIP 8:  Cemeteries (most) also maintain some sort of burial records.  Compare the cemetery record with the funeral home record to see what matches and what information differs or conflicts.  Pay attention to who owned or paid for the Cemetery Lot/Plot.  Ask if it was a Family Plot and for all the records for that plot.

TIP 9:  Some Funeral Directors are quite knowledgeable about the history of funerals.  Ask what the customs were at a specific death.  Ask the home to explain anything you do not understand in the funeral home record.

TIP 10: If you remain stuck and cannot locate a funeral home, and the deceased was in the military, try contacting a local military group.  Ask if they maintain a listing of veteran burials and if any local funeral home specializes in military burials.  For more recent burials, the local VFW members may have provided a "military guard" attendance for the burial and a member might remember which funeral home provided burial services.


Old, closed Funeral Homes and Previous Owners

Current Funeral Homes, with ownership history

List of Funeral Home Obituary Notices for Deaths

10 Tips to Obtain Funeral Home Records

Where to Find Some Funeral Home Records



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Page added April 17, 2009

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History of this website - The first PAGenWeb Washington County coordinator was Jean Suplick Matuson [who developed She was followed by Georgeann Malowney [who took over], then Peggy Tebbetts, and lastly, Christina Hunt who each held prior copyrights over this website.  Each coordinator has contributed much to the preservation of Washington County genealogical information/history.

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This page last updated Thursday, February 04, 2016