Many Americans trace their ancestry to Great Britain. This is the first of a series of blog posts designed to expose readers familiar with American genealogical practices to the similarities and differences encountered in English family history research. The first topic is cemeteries.
Terminology: In England, the term “monumental inscription” is more frequently used to describe what Americans would call a “gravestone,” “headstone,” or “tombstone.”
Location: In America, burial regulations have been very loose. While many folks were buried beside a church, it was not uncommon to be buried in a family cemetery. In areas where the Anglican Church held power during the colonial period, many were buried alongside a Church of England parish church, as had been the rule in the homeland.
In England, on the other hand, burial regulations were very strict. Until the early 1850s, when civil cemeteries were established, most English people were buried next to their parish church. This had been the practice for centuries. The wealthiest members of local society were buried beneath the church, and their monumental slabs made up portions of the floor. Monuments to the upper classes could also be found on interior church walls.
Most members of the local community, however, were buried outside in the churchyard. Because the churchyards were small, it became necessary to exhume old bones that had lain in the churchyards for centuries and place them in charnel houses, usually in the corner of the lot, to make room for new burials. Many ordinary English people who lived before the nineteenth century had wooden markers, if they had any at all, which have not survived.
A person would not wish to be buried on the north side of the church, where it was often damp, moldy, and mossy, as that is where excommunicates, unbaptized infants, nonconformists, and others expected to be damned were interred.
To learn more, read the England Cemeteries article at FamilySearch Wiki.