Book Review: Cemeteries and Graveyards

This long-awaited paperback by English professional genealogist Celia Heritage was published this month by Pen and Sword. It provides a microscope and macroscope for the topic in space and time that will open your eyes to unappreciated possibilities. Case studies, many from her own family research, bring life to the presentation. There’s also practical advice for getting the most out of exploring a graveyard or cemetery, and related resources, where an ancestor is waiting for you to find them and elements of their story.

Chapter 1, A Brief History of Death and Burial, starts with the story of  Celia’s lucky find of a memorial to great-grandparents and their children. The chapter covers the history of the way people’s bodies were disposed of, not only burial (inhumation) from 10,000 years ago to the present day, including the influence of religion.
Chapter 2, The Parish Churchyard, notes that the origins and early history of parish churchyards are undocumented. Celia advises that even though you assume your ancestor was poor, not to ignore memorials in the church and intramural burial, beneath the church floor and in crypts. Placement in a churchyard may indicate prominence in the community, depending on the era. She uses the case of the burial of a relative at Westminster’s St Martin-in-the-Fields church to suggest resources to explore to find your own long-deceased ancestor.
Chapter 3, Ex-Parochial Graveyards, explores a wide range of burial sites: Nonconformist, foreign church, Roman Catholic, Jewish, private, armed forces, institutional, prison, workhouse, hospital, asylum and plague pits. Also covered is locating defunct burial grounds.
Chapter 4, Cemeteries and Crematoria – the Nineteenth Century and Onwards, explores cemeteries as a gateway to many topics of interest aside from genealogy and history, including horticulture, nature conservation and architecture and their development.
Chapter 5, Gravestones and Gravesites, covers graves, gravestones and memorial markers. There’s helpful coverage of the evolution of styles, hints on reading eroded inscriptions and cleaning (and not cleaning). Mentioned in passing is a memorial said to be at St Paul’s Church (Cathedral) in London, Ontario. It refers to an article in the London Illustrated News and a memorial to those who died at the Battle of Alma in the Crimean War, not at the Alamo!
The final chapters rehearse the records, from those you immediately think of, like burial registers and newspapers, to records of undertakers and monumental masons, and websites.
Two appendices are followed by notes, a resource list and an index.

Cemeteries and Graveyards (Paperback)
A Guide for Local and Family Historians in England and Wales
By Celia Heritage
Imprint: Pen & Sword Family History
Series: Tracing Your Ancestors
Pages: 248
Illustrations: 30 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526702371
Published: 17th March 2022

One Reply to “Book Review: Cemeteries and Graveyards”

  1. I am especially interested in this book as I also have Heritage surnames in my own family history. Years back, Celia and I compared notes but could not find links between our families. But chaneverknow! Cheers, BT

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