Baby Loss Awareness Week and records of stillbirth

This week (9-15 October) is Baby Loss Awareness Week.  Understandably, this is an incredibly emotive issue and one that many people don’t think about if it is not something they have direct personal experience of. However, in the UK fourteen babies a day die before, during or soon after birth, so the chances are you know someone who has experienced such loss, even if you didn’t realise it.

Today, there are many organisations offering support and campaigning for better care and understanding about pregnancy and infant loss, and parents are encouraged to spend time with their baby being as involved as they choose to be in organising the funeral and/or remembrance services.  Memory boxes are often created containing photographs, hand and footprints, a lock of hair and perhaps verses and other mementoes that may offer support for grieving parents.

However, before the mid-1980s parents were rarely consulted about funeral arrangements for stillborn infants, and many mothers were unable even to meet their baby.  It may seem incomprehensible to many people (then as well as now), but this lack of engagement was often thought to be in the mother’s best interests – little, if any, thought was given to the father.  In fact, in a Commons debate earlier this year it was acknowledged that parents were still not fully involved in arrangements for the post mortem care of their baby well into the present century (see Hansard, 6 Feb 2020, Historic Stillbirth Burials and Cremations).

As a result, many parents do not know what happened to their baby and have never been able to visit a grave.  Occasionally, we receive enquiries at the record office from people looking for a grave or for any information relating to stillborn infants, often from younger siblings who didn’t even know about them until their elderly parents, considering their own mortality, want to find answers to the questions that have been with them for many decades.

Registration certificates

Under the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1874, a declaration of stillbirth was required so that babies who had been born alive but died shortly afterwards could not be buried as stillborn.  However, there was no local or national register of these declarations and it was not until 1 July 1927 that it became a legal requirement to register a stillbirth (until 1992, this included all babies born dead after 24 weeks, since 1992, it includes babies born dead after 28 weeks).  In contrast, to the birth, marriage and death records maintained by the General Register Office (GRO), copy certificates for stillbirths can only be requested by the mother or father of the child, or by a sibling if their parents are no longer alive.  Contact the GRO for further advice.

Searching for a grave

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to identify a grave location or find information relating to babies who were stillborn, and even less so to those who died during pregnancy, such loss usually referred to as a miscarriage.  Sands (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity) and Brief Lives Remembered who have lots of experiences in supporting parents and families to find graves and other records have produced very helpful guides which I have relied on heavily to produce this Derbyshire-specific guide.

Before the 1970s and 1980s, stillborn infants or their ashes would often have been buried in a communal grave or with an unrelated female, and probably unmarked.  Although cemeteries were not legally required to record burials of stillborn children before 1975, it may still be possible to identify the churchyard or cemetery in which the burial took place (this is often the case for other churchyard burials as well where no grave plan exists). 

For infants who born alive but died shortly after a full burial entry ought to be included in the relevant church or cemetery register – see our guide to Derbyshire burials for information about what these records may tell you and how to search them.  For stillborn infants, it may be worth checking the registers which are generally arranged chronologically, but if stillbirths are recorded, this may be at the end of the volume (for example, Parish of Heath, ref: D1610/A/PI/41/1).

Derbyshire Record Office does not generally hold original records for civil cemeteries or crematoria.  Copies of most cemetery registers up to 1997 are available on microfilm at the record office, but records of cremations can only be obtained through the relevant district or parish council (see http://www.gov.uk/find-local-council).  A small number of parish councils have deposited registers explicitly relating to stillborn infants, including Shirebrook, 1944-1961, and Chellaston, 1934-1944.  

There are also other records for the civil cemeteries – first established after 1852 and run by Burial Boards – which may offer some information about arrangements for burials of stillborn infants, though not naming individuals, though occasionally there are also accounts relating to grave purchases for individuals.  Burial Board records are often found amongst the archives of the successor borough, district or parish council, though a few are held in collections specifically relating to the board itself.

Occasionally, it may also be possible to trace information through the records of the funeral director.  Although Derbyshire Record Office does not hold any of funeral directors, many firms are still in operation and could be contacted directly with regards to their records.  Where the firm is no longer operating, local studies sources such as newspapers and directories may help identify a successor company, but this is likely to take some time and may not always be possible.

Other records

Before 1927 and for loss in pregnancy before 28/24 weeks, it is unlikely that there will be any surviving records because there was no requirement to keep or method for recording this information.  However, there are other records that might be of some assistance depending on individual circumstances.

Where they survive, hospital records may also include references to women in the maternity ward or maternity home.  The Derby Borough health visitors registers covering 1944-1977 (ref: D5118) often include records of stillbirths, usually at the end of the volume.  The same may also be true for similar registers covering the county (ref: D3193).  There are also a very small number of records deposited or donated by individual midwives, including information about individual births. In the 19th and early 20th century, the admission registers and case books for the county and borough asylums (ref: D1658 and D5874 respectively) often include agonising cases of women who have suffered the loss of a child. 

According to the Family Tree Forum the church sexton may have maintained a list of child burials.  Although no such records appear to survive in Derbyshire, there are several sexton’s records relating to graveyard and interments that may include some information.  The website also refers to that fact that notices may appear in 19th century newspapers, though these are likely to be few and far between and concern only the higher classes.

There are very few other references to stillborn children and baby loss in the archives at the record office.  Some of these can be found in the catalogue, usually amongst family collections containing letters or other personal records, others will be “hidden” in registers or other records and there to be discovered.

Support and further information

Sands is the lead partner of the Alliance that runs Baby Loss Awareness Week, and a full list of other members and supporters can be found at www.babyloss-awareness.org/

Baby Loss Awareness Week culminates with the global “Wave of Light” at 7pm on Thursday 15 October to remember the babies and the families who died before, during or soon after birth.  For more information about taking part, see www.babyloss-awareness.org/wave-of-light/ or see #BLAW2020 #waveoflight on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

I shall be lighting mine in memory of the two babies whom I shall never meet but often think of, for their mothers who I have known a long time and for their fathers who are still all too often overlooked.

Derbyshire Burials

A guide to using church burial and civil cemetery registers and to finding the location of a grave.

Image: All Saints Church, Brailsford, c1930s (Ref: DCHQ002850)

Note: Before civil registration was introduced in 1837, burial registers are the main source available to identify when a person died, as burials would have taken place within a few days of death.

Churchyard Burials

The earliest burial registers date from the mid-16th century and relate to burials in Anglican churchyards.  The majority of non-Anglican burial records for Derbyshire begin in the 19th century, with a small number from the 18th century and Quaker burials from the mid-17th century.

Information about the registers available for each parish and non-conformist church can be found in our Parish Register Guide and Non-Conformist Guide. You can also search the online catalogue – search for the church in the ‘Title’ field (e.g. Bolsover parish or Methodist Long Eaton) for a list of all the records for each church, or use the ‘D’ reference number given in the above Guides.

The amount of information recorded in the burial registers varies over time:

  • Before 1813, burial entries tend only to include the date of burial and name of the deceased; some may state whether they are a widow/widower and/or a reference to a family member, e.g. Sarah daughter of John Taylor.
  • After 1813, the registers often include the age at death, place of abode (usually just the area not a specific address) and the signature of the officiating minister.

It is unusual for churches to deposit grave registers at the Record Office, usually because they are not created in the first instance.  A small number of parishes have deposited plans of the churchyard that include information about some burials before a particular date (see below).

The burial registers for the Anglican parishes are available to search and browse via Ancestry up to 1991 – see our Parish Registers Online guide.  A number of burial registers for non-conformist churches are available to search on Find My Past – these are the registers for which the originals are held at The National Archives (TNA) and Derbyshire Record Office has copies on microfilm.

Civil Cemeteries

By the mid-19th century, parish churchyards were becoming full and there was a need to open civil cemeteries.  Following the Burial Acts of 1852 and 1853, the first civil cemeteries in Derbyshire opened in 1855.  Originally managed by Burial Boards, in 1894 responsibility for these cemeteries transferred to parish and district councils and this remains the case today. For more recent records, please contact the relevant .

The majority of the original records for cemeteries remain in the custody of the District Councils, however records up to the 1990s are available at the Record Office on microfilm and DVD.  See our Cemetery Records Guide for details of the records available.

If you can’t find an entry in the parish burial registers, or there aren’t any burial registers for the period you are interested in, check the civil cemetery records.

Unlike the church burial registers, the civil cemetery registers tend to include more information and are usually accompanied by an index and a grave register.  Although the grave registers do not include a layout plan of the graves, they do include plot numbers and give a rough indication of burial area, i.e. consecrated or unconsecrated ground.  This information can then be used to identify the location of the grave in the cemetery – you will usually need to contact the relevant district authority as well.

National Burial Index

The NBI contains over 18 million entries relating to burials in England and Wales between 1538 and 2008, including 125,000 entries from 54 Derbyshire locations. Published by Family History Federation (formerly Federation of Family History Societies), it is now in its 3rd Edition and over 12 million entries are available via Find My Past, giving details of burial place, year of death and religious denomination.

Memorial Inscriptions

For some Derbyshire churchyards, groups of volunteers have created transcripts of the headstones and plaques in the church.  These transcripts are known as Memorial Inscriptions (MIs), and include information only about those graves where the headstone/plaque was extant and legible at the time the transcripts were created usually, most were created in the 1990s and later.  The MIs do not include information about unmarked graves or graves where the headstone is no longer visible or legible. All the MIs held by the Record Office are available in the Computer Room, arranged alphabetically by place.

Finding the Grave

As civil cemetery registers tend to include a grave reference it is usually possible to identify the location of the grave itself, although sometimes you may need to contact the district or borough council responsible for the cemetery for guidance about how to interpret the reference.

It is unusual for churches to deposit grave registers at the Record Office, usually because they are not created in the first place.  However, a small number of parishes have deposited plans of the churchyard that include information about some burials before a particular date:

Parish/ChurchDescriptionReference
AldercarSchedule of identifiable gravesD2574/19/2
AshoverGrave registers,1779-1828, 1846-1859D253 A/PI 10/1-2
Ashbourne St OswaldsNotes on graves (early 20th century)D662 A/PI 26/7
BrimingtonSchedule of graves, 1956D626/A/PD/6/1
CalowGrave Registers, 1862-1899D1642/A/PI/63-4
Chesterfield, St Mary and All SaintsSchedules of gravesD643/A/PI/28-29
Chesterfield, Elder Yard ChapelChurchyard plan, 1915

 

 

D6414/6/2/2
Chesterfield, Holy TrinityGrave register, 1856-1864D935/A/PI/108
DenbyGrave plan, 1902D935/A/PI/181
Derby St AlkmundsClerk’s rough note book of burials 1853-1864D916/A/PI/6/7
DerwentBurial and grave registers, 1908-1927D2036/A/PI/5/1-3
DoveridgeChurchyard register and plan, 1890-1955D1197/A/PI/18
EckingtonRegister of purchased gravesD750/A/PI/5/4
EdensorPartial grave plan, c1850D1192/A/PI/223
HayfieldGraveyard plan and book of reference, 1849D2462/A/PI/12/1-2
HorsleyGraveyard plan and list of graves, 18th cent-1920’sD2467/A/PI/10
Ilkeston St MarysList of burials, 19th-20th cent; Reinternment file, 1992D3082/A/PI/41, 46
IronvilleBurial register includes some plot detailsD3088/A/PI/4/1-5
Kirk HallamCemetery planD1537/A/PI/8/1
MappletonDescription of tombs and gravestones and inscriptions, 1911D845/A/PI/12
NethersealList of gravesD809/A/PI/32
Old BramptonBurials waste book, 1792-1887D947/A/PI/288
OversealPlan showing graves to be disturbed, 1951D812/A/PC/2/1-2
ShottleDraft graveyard plan and list of graves, 1973D964/A/PD/7/1-2
SomercotesGrave register and planD2006/A/PI/5/1-6
StaveleyFile concerning removal of gravesD661/A/PI/143
StonegravelsProposed gravestones, 1945-1950D2083/9/1
Stoney MiddletonGrave register and partial draft plan, 1879-1941D1455/A/PI/100-1
SwadlincoteMemorial Inscriptions, 1847-1931D653/A/PI/18/2
WhittingtonGrave register, 1879-c1914D2528/A/PI/19/1-2
WirksworthGrave plans, 1952D3105/A/PZ/2/6n
WormhillGrave plan and indexD1372/A/PI/145-8

It may also be worth contacting the church directly as a small number do also hold their own records about location of graves in their churchyards.

Edited 19 Jun 2020 to include details about the National Burial Index

Family History – Getting Started

A guide to where to start with your family history and the main types of record to help you.

The first thing to do, is to gather together as much information as you can from present day family members and any family documents you have at home.  Record what you already know such as names, dates and place of birth, marriage and death, then use this to work backwards and fill in any gaps.

Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths: A national system of registration was introduced in England and Wales on 1 July 1837.  Search the indexes online, e.g. www.gro.gov.uk or www.freebmd.org.uk. Order copy certificates from www.gro.gov.uk or the local register office.

Church registers: as far back as 1538 (and up to the present day), church records that provide information about when people were alive through baptism, marriage and burial registers.  Registers for Anglican churches in Derbyshire can be consulted via Ancestry up to 1916 for baptisms, 1932 for marriages and 1991 for burials.  Free access to this site is available from all Derbyshire libraries.  See guide to Parish Registers Online. Before 1733, almost all of the entries in the church registers are recorded in Latin.

Similar registers are also available for a large number of non-conformist churches. Some are available via Find My Past (also be accessible for free in Derbyshire libraries), with others available on microfilm or as original documents in the archive search room.

Consult the Parish Register List and Non-Conformist Register List for details of the records available.  For more recent registers added to the church collections, please search the online catalogue using the reference number given in the summary guides (Parish Guide and Non-Conformist Guide) or by searching in the Title field as follows:

  • Church of England: place name and the word parish, e.g. Alfreton Parish
  • Non-conformist: place name and the word church (or chapel if applicable), e.g. Gresley church.

For some churchyards and civil cemeteries, local groups have produced Memorial Inscriptions, recording the details of memorials and gravestones in and outside churches, these are often useful for identifying family relationships.

Censusa national census has been taken every ten years since 1801, and from 1841 detailed returns listing individuals have survived.  The returns are available online (for example on Ancestry and Find My Past) up to 1911, and microfilm copies are available to 1901 at the record office.  From 1851, the returns include place of birth, and more detail is added over time making them very useful for helping to trace ancestors who may have moved around.  Depending on the date and place of residence, for some ancestors you may be able to identify the house they lived in, but house numbers and even street names are quite uncommon in most rural and semi-rural towns.

Bishops’ Transcripts: in 1598, parishes were ordered to send an annual copy of all baptisms, marriages and burials for the year to the church authorities.  For some parishes, the ‘Bishop’s Transcripts’, or BTs were made until the late 19th century and can be very useful when the original registers are hard to read or if a register is missing.  Both BTs and parish registers can contain entries not found in the other.  Derbyshire was part of the Diocese of Lichfield until the mid-19th century, so the BTs are held at Staffordshire Record Office.

Cemetery records: copies of cemetery records from 1855 to the 1990s are available on microfilm and DVD.  The registers tend to include more information and there is usually a grave register to help identify the location of the grave itself.

Consult the Cemetery Records Guide on our website for a full list of the records available.

Wills and Probate: by at least the 13th century the Church had succeeded in establishing a jurisdiction in testamentary matters, which it retained until the Court of Probate Act 1857.  Most early Derbyshire wills are to be found amongst the records of the Diocese of Lichfield held at Staffordshire Record Office and can be accessed online via Find My Past. One exception was Dale Abbey manorial court which exercised its own probate jurisdiction until 1858.  Wills of persons holding property in more than one diocese were proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC), see The National Archives guide to Wills or Administrations before 1858 Guide for more information.

Between 1858 and 1928 wills (and letters of administration to 1875) for many Derbyshire residents were proved by the Derby Probate Registry and copies are available on microfilm or DVD – search the catalogue using the person’s name and reference D96/*.

Wills after 1928 can be ordered online from the Probate Service.

There are also thousands of wills amongst family and estate collections, particularly where they form part of a bundle or series of deeds to prove the title to property.  The best way to search for such records is to search for the individual’s name in the ‘Any Text’ field in the online catalogue.

Guides to doing family history:  there is a lot of information online about how to research your family history, and we have lots of general and specific guides (for example relating to ancestors in particular trades, those who broke the law and those who emigrated) in the local studies library to help as well.

Find out more about your ancestors using records for digging deeper.