Funeral home records

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Funeral home records are one of the resources that many genealogists know exist, but few family hunters have used them. That may be because many don’t know how to locate funeral home records or feel they would have little to offer beyond what can be found in an obituary or on a cemetery tombstone. That’s not the case. Well-kept funeral home records can prove to be a goldmine for a genealogist with some details not found on a death certificate.

The Wassebec Genealogical Society in Dover-Foxcroft recently heard a presentation from Ethan Annis, Director of the Lary Funeral Home in Piscataquis County. Ethan’s talk was not only informative but an eye-opener for many of us for the quantity of details contained in these records. While state law allows homes to destroy their records after 30 years, this home has all its original records dating back to 1934.

While much of the information is reported to Maine’s Disease Control and Prevention office in Augusta which handles vital records, the original records contain a list of survivors and other information valuable to a genealogist.

The State of Maine requires funeral homes to obtain information such as the full name of the deceased, birthdate, names of parents, origins, race, names of the spouse and any former spouses, military service, next of kin, the cemetery where the deceased will be buried, and legal residence. Many also contain the maiden name of the wife or wives. This is the type of information genealogists hunger to find. While an obituary may contain this, many will not have all the collected information. And, families may opt to simply list a death notice instead of a full obituary thus limiting the amount of information easily available for family historians.

And then there is the trend toward cremation. Ethan explained that 70 percent of deceased in Maine opt for cremation and that figure is 80 percent in Piscataquis County. Final resting places for the cremated remains may or may not be found in funeral home records which may only list the crematorium itself.

Where will you find funeral home records? If the funeral home is still in existence, check with them to see if they have a record for the relative or ancestor you are seeking and how far back the records go. If the home is no longer in existence they may have been purchased and combined with another home in the area so it’s worth asking others if they have some of those missing records. Also, some records may have ended up in historical societies or even town libraries so don’t neglect to ask if they have anything in their collections that might help you or any knowledge of where they might be found.

You may not find anything but if you do you can learn a great deal from these records and it’s worth your time and trouble to find them if at all possible. While most surviving records will date from the mid-20th century they can be a great help in giving you clues and data you might not find elsewhere.

Nancy Battick is a Dover-Foxcroft native who has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft. Nancy holds a MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. You can contact Nancy at nbattick@roadrunner.com.

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