Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Don't forget the babies!

One of the most emotional experiences of my life was centered around a scanning project. I was involved with FamilySearch in preserving over 13,000 Permits for Burial from the Mesa City Cemetery, Mesa, Maricopa, Arizona. Because of the experimental and developmental nature of the project, it took more than 2 years to complete. The reason for the project's impact on me was the fact that day after day, I scanned records such as the one above, showing the deaths of babies from a variety of causes. All time I was doing this, I was constantly reminded that these pieces of paper might be the only physical evidence left in the world of these babies' deaths.

Permits for Burial are among the forgotten records accompanying the interment process. Many genealogists, especially those beginning the process of research, think of birth and death certificates. In the absence of such tangible evidence of a person's death, they are at a loss to find any other records. Permits for Burial were and are common throughout the United States. During the course of the project, it became very evident to me that these documents often acted as the only written record of some of the burials in the cemetery. Preservation of these records can be haphazard. They may have been preserved in a location associated with the cemetery or lie in cabinets and boxes stored anywhere from a public library to a mortuary or funeral home.

Despite their common use and requirement, Permits for Burial are missing from almost all lists of record types and are not included in the large online database programs. In fact, there are only one each of a collection of these documents in either or entitled Permits for Burial. The ones I scanned from the City of Mesa Cemetery are entitled "Arizona, Maricopa, Mesa City Cemetery Records, 1885-1960." The collection in is entitled, "Leavenworth County, Kansas Burials, 1954-58, 1963-70." The collection is described as follows:
Known as "The First City of Kansas," Leavenworth was home to over 75,000 people in 1950. This database is a collection of burial permits from the city in the 1950s and 1960s. Compiled by the Leavenworth County Genealogical Society, the permits are for persons that died outside Leavenworth but were buried in the city. A great number of these permits are for persons buried in one of the two National Cemeteries located in Leavenworth. For those persons seeking ancestors from Leavenworth, Kansas, this can be a helpful source of information.
A gap in the birth of children in a family in years past can often indicate a baby that died in childbirth or shortly thereafter. As researchers we need to take the time to search for all of the records, not just those that are convenient or readily available. Many of the children in the City of Mesa Cemetery are probably not recorded by death certificates. The death of a baby was often treated as a private matter of the family and in some instances the family dug the grave, after getting the burial certificate, and buried the baby. I am certain that no other records were made.

Each member of a family, no matter how short their life, deserves to be remembered.


  1. I've been "pulling obituaries" from newspapers for a couple of small towns in Indiana during the 1900-1910 time period. I often wonder, as I write out the basic information, whether anyone alive even knows these little ones lived and died and were loved in the "dash". If they didn't show up on a census, and there is no family Bible, there's a good chance no one knows that great grandma had two sisters who died young. Just writing their names and basic information in preparation for an index is an honor, as it honors their lives.

    1. You are certainly right. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I think the unfortunate part of burial permits is that they were often destroyed by many communities. I've always looked out for them, especially in the absence of a death certificate as they reveal just as much information. I know in the communities that I've been researching, the burial permits were destroyed in an effort to save space since they decided they already had the death certificate that had a lot of the same information.

    Another one that is often forgotten is cremation records - the smallest deceased in the cemetery could be easily cremated and the only thing that is left is a line on a metal plaque. Without the cremation record revealing more about the child, there's no record of their short lives at all, just their death :-(

  4. How far back do burial permits go? I'm looking for people who past away in the late 1800's.