Source Information

Ancestry.com. UK, Records of the Removal of Graves and Tombstones, 1601-1980 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2021. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors.
Original data: RG 37 - General Register Office: Removal of Graves and Tombstones. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives.

About UK, Records of the Removal of Graves and Tombstones, 1601-1980

General collection information

This collection contains records from local authorities and Church Commissioners concerning the removal of burial sites. The burial sites include those from church, private, and public cemeteries. Tombstones are an excellent resource for tracing your family history. Dates on tombstones are usually accurate, and family members are mostly buried close together, sometimes even sharing a tombstone, which makes expanding your family tree easy.

Using the collection

Records in the collection may include the following information:

  • Date grave was removed
  • Name on tombstone
  • Name of original location
  • Name of new location
  • Plans of original burial site
  • Plans of new burial site
  • Years inscribed on tombstone

While the information in this collection does include the years inscribed on the tombstone, the primary dates in this collection refer to the date of removal.

Knowing your family member’s parish can be a great place to start looking for records. However, keep in mind that being buried in a churchyard doesn’t necessarily indicate church membership or even religious denomination. The Burial Act of 1853 allowed the Church of England to offer burials for non-members who resided within the parish, as well as for non-members who died within parish boundaries. And public cemeteries allowed for the burial of people of all faiths.

Collection in context

Churchyards were the primary burial sites in England and Wales until the 19th century, when the first two cholera epidemics brought about a burial crisis. Although Victorians often reused graves, established churchyards became overcrowded. Crowding and concerns about public health led to the opening of private cemeteries outside of cities. Churchyards began to close, and the remains within were moved to private cemeteries.

In the 1850s Parliament passed the Burial Acts, which regulated cemeteries and established a public cemetery system. The Burial Act of 1857, which makes it illegal to disturb a grave without a licence, was passed because of concerns that graves were being reused too quickly.

Bibliography

Carrington, Damian. “Re-using Graves Means UK Cemetery Will Never Run Out of Space.” The Guardian. Last Modified 6 May 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/06/re-using-graves-means-uk-cemetery-will-never-run-out-of-space.

Church of England. “Who Can Be Buried In Your Churchyard?” Last Modified 2020, https://www.churchofengland.org/more/church-resources/churchcare/advice-and-guidance-church-buildings/new-burials-and-memorials.

Design Council UK. “Cemeteries, Churchyards, and Burial Grounds.” Last Modified 2007. https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/cemeteries-churchyards-and-burial-grounds_.pdf

Dunning, Hayley. “A History of Burial in London.” Natural History Museum. Last Modified 22 January 2015. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/a-history-of-burial-in-london.html.