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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Jump Start Your Research with Funeral Programs


When you first began researching your ancestors, chances are you jumped online right away. It is easy to overlook the resources right in your own home or collected by family members. If you have ever attended a funeral of a loved one, you may remember being given a funeral program. Someone in your family may even be collecting these valuable records. Funeral programs can be a great way to begin learning about your family. 

Funeral program collections 
Genealogical societies and libraries recognize the usefulness of collecting funeral programs. The Indiana African American Genealogy Group collects funeral programs and make them available for a fee. Take a look at sample images of programs that they have gathered.  

The Birmingham Public Library has made their funeral program accessible online in their digital collection Virginia, African-American Funeral Programs, 1935-2009, is a free collection available at Learn more about the collection here 

Many funeral home programs collections exist. Some are not accessible online. Check the library or genealogical society in your area of interest to learn about existing collections, but the first place to check is with your own family members to see what funeral programs they have collected over the years. Be sure to ask family members from different branches of your family especially the branch where you have the most research challenges.  

Information in a funeral program 
Newer funeral programs are often very elaborate and include a collage of photos from different time periods of the person's life. Information in a funeral program may help fill in missing wholes in your research. It will be important that you verify any details that you find using other records such as birth, marriage, or death records. On the cover of a funeral program, you may find a photo of your ancestor with birth and death information.  

Funeral programs for individuals that were born after 1940 are great resources because they do not appear on any census that has been made available. Details about parents and accomplishments that loved ones share in funeral programs may be the only record for that person's life. Sometimes a funeral program can help you understand how you are related to the person. Other details in a funeral program that can provide direction in your search include: 
  • age 
  • maiden name 
  • spouse 
  • children & grandchildren 
  • siblings 
  • places where the person lived 
  • church 
  • funeral home 
  • cemetery 
  • occupation 
  • schooling 
  • accomplishments 
  • military service 

Connecting to other resources 
So, what do you do with all this information gleaned from a funeral program? First, compare and confirm the details on the funeral program with the information that you already have. Are there any inconsistencies? Now would be the time to query your family to find out why. For example, did you learn about a person that you did not have documented before? Research that person to confirm relationships. In the process you may discover another branch of your family.  

Next, extract the new information that you see. If you learn about a cemetery that you did not know about before, it would be a good idea to research the burials and history of that cemetery to find out if you have any other family buried there. 


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