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Find Your Family - Unusual sources for research include funeral home records

Article Date: 
10 January, 2014 (All day)

When working on your genealogy, remember to follow up on any mention of a funeral home. Their records provide researchers with information about the individual’s death and more. They may show just a few details or the minutia involved in planning a funeral down to what flowers were sent and any clothes or beautician services purchased by the deceased’s loved ones. Details like who paid for the funeral might help identify family members and their addresses. Ministers who are listed as performing the funeral service provide clues as to additional church records that you will want to locate and research.
Start your research by contacting the known funeral home and requesting the desired records. You may find the information for the funeral home from a death certificate, cemetery records, obituary or funeral notice in the newspaper. Remember, the funeral home’s main purpose is not to assist genealogists looking for family history; they are in business to help those who have recently lost a loved one. The best approach is by letter, email or phone call. Showing up unexpectedly while they are busy assisting grieving families won’t be to your benefit.
Locating funeral home records can be tricky if the funeral home is no longer in business. Funeral home records are the records of a private company, and being such they do not have to archive or share them. 
Another recent trend is smaller family-owned funeral homes are being purchased by larger corporations and some of their older records may have been destroyed. In the case of a funeral home that has been bought out or no longer exists, inquire with local funeral directors as to who may have the records. Funeral directors usually know the history of funeral homes in their area. Often, records from earlier mortuaries and funeral parlors are passed on to subsequent businesses in the area. Some of these records go back over 100 years or more.
Be patient when requesting information. The records are private and as a private business, the owners can choose when and who, if ever, they share them with. Some funeral homes may cite confidentiality. I have had great success with records kept by the mortuary. The last names of my great-grandfather’s parents were listed in funeral home records when they were found nowhere else.
The Family History Library has a few funeral home records that have been microfilmed. 
The National Yellow Book of Funeral Directors by Nomis Publications is one of my favorite resources. I keep a copy by my desk. This book can help you locate a funeral home and may be available at your local library. I know Walker’s Mortuary always has a current copy. You can also purchase it from the publisher.
More and more funeral home records are being placed online by genealogical or historical societies, libraries or archives, or by the funeral home itself. Try Googling the name of the funeral home and the locality to see what you find.
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Holly T. Hansen is the owner of Family History Expos and Celebrating Family History. She can be contacted by email at holly@fhexpos.com.