Funeral Home Records Tell Stories of the Dearly Departed

The funeral home record for your ancestor is a resource not to be overlooked. The record not only lists the financial detail of services rendered for the last event of a person’s life, but often bio and family info collected for the clergyman’s eulogy. You may find cause of death listed, an obituary, last address… and more…

Funeral homes provide services that conform to the religious or ethnic beliefs and traditions of the departed, family in the time of the deceased. Who performed the service…what music was performed? Was it a closed service? Why? In many communities, funeral homes “specialized” or catered to a particular religious segment or ethnic group. Some provided burial services to the indigent, or for one group of locals, but not others.

Who paid for the funeral? The financial arrangements may hold clues to family members who contributed to the costs. Or did someone, not a family member, pay for all or part of the fees? What was the connection to the deceased or his/her family? Perhaps, an organization paid part or contributed a service or tribute providing a clue to membership in a group important in the life of the deceased.

Military service, honors and achievements, profession, award for best pie at the State Fair, beloved pet could be mentioned in the funeral home’s record….just as a prison record, or something considered a personal failure.

Now to find the funeral home…google it! Don’t know the name of the funeral home? Search the net for the town or county for funeral homes that existed within the timeframe of the death of your ancestor. Consult with the local library or county recorder for information too. Often, funeral home ownership pass down through families with no or little change to the name. Or someone in the community buys the business and the records stay with the owner. In some cases, the records may be archived with an area historical society, library, genealogy society. Some have been digitalized and are available in databases held by such groups or sites online.

Just as an example, the funeral home record of my Great Grandfather, Winfield, who died in Oklahoma City, 1918, holds a tidbit of information of interest. Winfield died of a stroke at age 59 years. His three adult children, a son and two daughters paid two-thirds of the $189.00 funeral expense. The cost and arrangements were standard for the time-casket, embalming, lots of flowers, hearse, limousines and burial. Winfield’s children were of means and ability to pay, but the balance was paid, likely in tribute to one of their members by the Order of the Knights of Pythias.

In my research, I had seen references to Winfield’s association with this organization in the local newspaper of his time. And certainly, I had found in findings about his activities and prolific writings, a man who was liberal, championed the working man and spoke out about against racism.

What was the Knights of Pythias? The following from their website, http://pythias.org tells the story of the organization’s beginning and purpose:

“The Order began, of course, during the Civil War, and its founder believed that it might do much to heal the wounds and allay the hatred of civil conflict. President Abraham Lincoln, being advised of the contents of the ritual and its teaching, said: ‘The purposes of your organization are most wonderful. If we could but bring its spirit to all our citizenry, what a wonderful thing it would be…I would suggest that these great principles by perpetuated and that you go to the Congress of the United States and ask for a charter, and so organize on a great scale throughout this nation, and disseminate this wonderful work that you have so nobly started. I will do all in my power to assist you in this application and with your work.”

The suggestion made by the President was adopted by the United States Congress. An application was made to Congress for a charter, and the Order of Knights of Pythias was the first American Order ever chartered by an Act of the Congress of the United States.

So find those funeral home records. They may tell you more than just the cost of the service! If you are looking for ancestors who died in Iowa, Genealogy Treasures is a terrific resource! GT is a searchable database of Iowa funeral home and cemetery records too. https://gentreasures.com

 

Then We Saw It, Now We Don’t…

Sadly, cemetery grave markers disappear. Finding an ancestor’s burial is further complicated by an inconsistent or even nonexistent system of burial records. Here in central Iowa, the township clerk is the person charged with maintaining cemeteries and the records. Some do, some don’t.

Gillan home2, Colfax, ILRaycemeteryIn July 1979, my family and I, travelled to McLean County, Illinois to do a bit of ancestor sleuthing. My Gillan branch lived in the area 1865 till James Gillan’s death in 1907. Stopping by the post office in this small midwest town, I was told the old home still stands and that there was a cemetery on that property as well. Directions in hand, my patient husband, young sons and I drove to the Gillan home in Martin township, then on down the road to the cemetery.

Gillan, Sarah-grave-Colfax, ILL

Sarah Gillan’s Gravestone

James Gillan had given a corner of his property, establishing a small cemetery, called Plymouth, in 1880. When his wife Sarah died in August of that year, she was buried there. One hundred years later, I showed up. In 1979, Plymouth Cemetery had fewer than ten gravestones, most broken, some unreadable. It was overgrown, obviously not maintained. We did find the grave stone for Sarah Gillan, broken from its base, but with chalk and paper deciphered the inscription.

Recently, I discovered that Findagrave.com has no listing for Sarah Gillan. Plymouth Cemetery is listed with nine burials including “Gillan unknown,” and this note left by the Findagrave.com submitter:

We found this broken tombstone in this remote cemetery in Martin Twp., McLean County, Illinois 4-2-2009. As I researched the Gillan name, I have learned the Gillan family owned property 4-5 miles south of Colfax, that is just about where this cemetery is located.

I contacted the person who submitted the information about Plymouth Cemetery to Findagrave.com and told her of my visit to the cemetery in 1979, when gravestones were there, sent her my photos and the documentation for Sarah Gillan’s burial.

Adding to the picture proof of Sarah’s burial in Plymouth Cemetery, I have a copy of her death certificate which states where she was to be buried. Then there’s the Centennial edition of the history of the area, picked up at the local library in Colfax, Illinois which contained a newsy entry on James and Sarah Gillan. Since I was kinfolk, the librarian honored me with a copy!

Cemetery, funeral home records, death certificates, obituaries and more should always be consulted whether you actually find a gravestone or not! If you are researching ancestors here in Iowa, you now have a fabulous, valuable resource on the website,  Genealogical TreasuresGT’s databases of actual records from area cemeteries and funeral homes provides you with an invaluable resource of information about your kinfolk. Several databases are now available here on GT, with many, many more to be uploaded over the next few months…take a look…find out more about your Iowa ancestors!