Burial Records – An Introduction

The article below was originally published in 2017. It has been lightly-edited to fit our 2020 series examining family history resources for beginners. 

Harehills Cemetery, 1920. From Leodis.net
  • This Saturday 25 March, our Local and Family History department will have a stall at the Be Curious festival at the University of Leeds. We were kindly invited by the Brotherton Library’s Special Collections, who have recently made the records of Leeds General Cemetery available online. You can find more information about Burial Records in our research guide, as well as a brief history of cemeteries in the area elsewhere on our blog. 

Parish (Church) Burial Records
British churches have been keeping registers of their baptisms, marriages and burials since 1538. At the Leeds Local and Family History Library, we hold copies for most of the city and a fair bit of Yorkshire. (You can see a full list on our website.) It used to be the case that, to trace a family’s history, you’d need to choose a likely parish register and go through each entry, looking for names and dates that fitted the family tree. Nowadays, thanks to various family history websites, it can be much easier to hone in on a particular record, so most people prefer to start by searching Ancestry (which is free to access in all Leeds libraries) and Family Search.

Church (parish) burial registers themselves usually give the deceased’s name, age, address, and the name of a relation. Quite often, the earlier registers are little more than a barely-decipherable list of names and dates – meaning that you may never truly know if they refer to the ‘right’ person or simply someone else with the same name – but, by and large, they remain the only source of information on the deaths of ordinary folk centuries back. Read our article exploring parish registers to learn how to find burial records on Ancestry.com.

Municipal Cemeteries
By the start of the Victorian era, churchyards in Leeds were mostly full, and finding a place to bury someone was becoming a major problem. The city’s first non-denominational cemetery was opened in 1835 at St. George’s Field, Woodhouse, by the Leeds General Cemetery Company. This was followed ten years later by the first municipal cemetery proper, at Beckett Street in Burmantofts – provided by the Leeds Corporation to help ease the growing issue of what to do with the dead.

  • Woodhouse Cemetery has been largely cleared of headstones but still exists within the grounds of the University of Leeds. In this case, the entire original burial records can be searched online.
  • For Beckett Street Cemetery records, navigate to Ancestry.com, click Search at the top of the screen, and then +Card Catalog to the right. Then, enter ‘Beckett’ in the Title field to the left and then click on the entry in the results field to search a digitised copy of the Beckett Street Cemetery records from its opening in 1845 to 1987. Visit us at the Central Library in Leeds to access further relevant information, including a map of grave locations and a detailed map of the whole cemetery. If you plan on visiting the Cemetery itself, you may also find it useful to contact the Friends of Beckett Street Cemetery.

Leeds Local and Family History Library holds microfilmed copies of most of the records for the rest of the municipal cemeteries in Leeds. These list burials by date and usually give the name, address and age of the deceased, along with plot details. We also have printed name indexes for Woodhouse, Beckett Street and Hunslet Cemeteries. The Council’s Bereavement Services department keeps the original cemetery records at Farnley Hall, and can also be contacted to arrange a cemetery visit or request a search.

Upper and Lower Wortley Cemetery (undated). From Leodis.net

Non-Conformist Church Records
In the case of burials outside the Church of England, a large portion of these records have unfortunately not survived. However, we have a limited selection of ‘non-conformist’ burial records available at the Local and Family History Library on microform, including some Quaker, Methodist, and even older Catholic records.

Catholic Burial Records
For enquiries regarding all aspects of Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials, contact the Leeds Diocesan Archives. Killingbeck Cemetery in East Leeds is the main Catholic burial ground. Its register is not publicly available but is partly indexed by the Yorkshire Burials website, which is run by a group of local transcribers.

Jewish Burial Records
Information about Jewish cemeteries in Leeds can be found online, in the Leeds section of the International Jewish Cemetery Project website. A further database of Leeds burial records can be found at JCR-UK, the Jewish Communities & Records website.

Newspaper Notices
Another very useful source of information about deaths and burials is local newspapers. If you have a date of death it’s worth checking these for obituaries or death notices in the days afterwards. A death announcement will usually give details of funeral services and interments and often other family member names. Here at Local and Family History we hold a large archive of local papers and can help you get started in your search.

Good luck with your research and email us at localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk or call us on 0113 37 86982 if you need any further advice.

5 Comments Add yours


    Thankyou for this beautifully organised site.
    Brenda Bernstein Habshush.
    (Born 1940 in St. Martin’s View,Chapeltown.

    1. Hi Brenda,

      Thank you for your kind comments – we’re delighted you are enjoying the blog!

      Librarian, Leeds Central Library
      The Secret Library

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