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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Religious Records by Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, CGL. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Examples from Burial Records
Early Roman Catholic
In the printed registers for Notre-Dame-de-Québec, we find a burial for François Gontier, aged 26 years, who died 21 January 1729 and was buried the following day. The only others listed in the record are three priests.
Most of those buried at Notre-Dame-de-Québec in 1729 are children, often very young. Their fathers’ names are given also. Married women’s husbands’ names are given also.
Later Roman Catholic
In the printed registers for Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures for 1751, we find the burial of Pierre Trudelle, aged 56 years. He died on 27 February 1751 and was buried the following day. There are two witnesses, Pierre Tessier and Daniel Hély, and name of the officiating priest, Fr Dunière.
Most of the deaths in this register of are children, as before, and the names of both their parents are given this time. The husband’s name is given for married women.
Naturally any researcher would make a note of the witnesses at the burial, in case they should be useful. If you are looking through records such as these, it would be good to examine the entries surrounding the one which interests you. Are there similarities or differences which should be noted?
In this case, yes. Almost all the burials in 1750 and 1751 have Pierre Tessier as a witness and many also have Daniel Hély. This makes it less likely that they were acting as personal friends of Pierre Trudelle when they were listed in his burial record, but more likely they hold some office in the church or community.
More established episcopal religions were more likely to have kept burial records in the old country, and carried their habits to the new world. Evangelical religions, whose record keeping was not as thoroughly established, are less likely.
So, we find plenty of Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran burial records, even from pioneer days. Others were more likely to begin keeping burial records when their own record keeping became more organized, either by their denomination or through the commencement of civil registration, which made everyone more aware of the necessity of these kinds of records. Many of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Ontario, for example, have burial records starting in the 1860s or shortly after.
Burial records can be used as an adjunct to cemetery records. In some cases the church will have had its own burying ground or churchyard; in others, the burials will have taken place in a community cemetery. Whichever, burial records can be used to solve mysteries caused by broken gravestones or by cemetery records which are incomplete. The activities of local genealogy societies are discovering many pioneer family farm burial sites which, due to distance or other factors at the time of deaths, may never have received a clergy visit or subsequent recording.
Of course community cemeteries and their records are not within the purview of a church. They grew from the need for purposely dedicated grounds to serve the increasing population. Thus began the gradual non-religious aspect of cemetery administration, the development of plot registers, cemetery site plan and so on.
The published records of the Boston Church in Halton County, Ontario, include a map of the churchyard as it was in 1911, with lot owners’ names:
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Religious Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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