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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dead Children

I have been looking at cemetery records lately. So far, 3085 of them to be exact. I must say it is very sad work. Technically, the records are called Permits for Burial. They are a form apparently required by the State of Arizona from around 1920 until 1933. Here is a description of this type of record from the Boston Public Health Commission:
The Burial Permits Office issues the official disposition, removal or transportation permit for any person who dies within City of Boston. The City of Boston includes Beacon Hill, Back Bay, North End, South End, West End, South Boston, East Boston, Allston, Brighton, Fenway, Mission Hill, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Dorchester, West Roxbury, Roslindale, Hyde Park, and Readville.
Burial Permits are issued to Funeral Personnel, after presenting a completed and correct certificate of death.
Burial Permits are issued to record the final disposition of a deceased’s remains. Burial Permits are issued for the burial, cremation, or transportation of a person’s remains. Final disposition may be within the state of Massachusetts, USA, or any other place throughout the world. Permits are also issued for the exhumation and re-interment of any person’s remains within the City of Boston, to another location, in or out of the city, or out of the country.
These records could also contain a receipt for the purchase of the grave. The ones I am looking at are have two parts; the actual Permit and a receipt for the purchase of the grave. I have to admit, this is the first time I have examined any of this type of record. The Arizona records give the following information:
  • The name of the deceased
  • The name of mortician
  • The location of the grave
  • The date and circumstances of the death, i.e. suicide, still birth, accident, murdered with description etc.
  • The cause of death in medical terminology or narrative
  • The age at death
  • The name of the person or entity purchasing the grave
  • Whether or not the remains were transported from another state
  • The name of the Town Clerk
Is any of this information you might like to know about an ancestor? Looking in the Family History Library Catalog, I find 116 results for "burial permits." Interestingly, in the collections, I find only one collection from Kansas of burials. In the case of the Arizona records, the records were not previously used by any researcher except the cemetery personnel. Except for the few people who worked at the cemetery location where the records are stored, no one from the State or City knew these old records existed. I asked about old records while visiting the cemetery and was told about them by a cemetery worker who was concerned about preserving the records. How did I gain access to the records? I simply asked to see them. They were stored in the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet. Don't worry, I have now made arrangements to have the records preserved.

So why are they sad? I was stunned to see how many children, who died early in childhood, were buried in the cemetery. The cemetery is literally a graveyard of children. My best guess is more than half the burials were of children. I am certain that the record of their deaths exist in no other place. Period. Looking at the Family History Library Catalog entries, it is likely that these are fairly common records.

In addition to the content of the originals, the link to the mortuary may produce even more records. Mortuary records are not uncommon, but are hardly ever consulted.

Looking at the causes of death makes me thankful for antibiotics and modern medicine. The sadness comes from the realization that many of these children passed through this world without any other record of their existence. How many more of these records and others are locked up in cemetery offices, mortuaries, and other repositories around the world? I would guess millions upon millions.


  1. Most of my family came from Santa Cruz County. Where can I find the burial permits for that county? Thanks!

    1. Cemetery records are not kept by county, usually, they are kept by the cemetery. You would have to locate the cemetery and then track down who has the records on a cemetery by cemetery basis.

    2. I've not had good luck with the cemetery. I don't believe they kept any type of record. BUT the mortuary (which has to be around 90 years old), like you said, has tremendous records!