I have an ancestor who committed suicide in 1748 in rural Northamptonshire, England. The burial register of his parish does not record his burial, but it does note that he "hung humself lying almost prostrate on his own bed." I know he was not buried in the churchyard because the number of burials are tallied each year.

This man's widow died about seven years later, but was buried in a nearby parish. It is unlikely she had permanently moved to that parish as the burial register still describes her as of the former parish. This makes me wonder whether her husband's suicide affected where the family decided to have her buried.

What would have been the common practice for burial of a person who committed suicide in the eighteenth century? Are there any records that might contain information about where he was buried?

  • I just realised that I do not have a burial record for my ancestor Charles Keagle who committed suicide at Whitchurch, Devon in 1791 (genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/8062/…) nor do I have one for his wife who I think continued to live there. However, I do need to do more exhaustive searches before I could conclude that either must/may have been buried elsewhere.
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 17, 2016 at 22:08

2 Answers 2


At that time, a suicide would not have been buried in consecrated ground. Suicide was both a sin and a criminal offence. Burial in consecrated ground was only permitted after 1823 without ritual, and with ritual only after the 1880 Burial Act, one description of which is found here.

As the Church would have nothing to do with the burial of a suicide, there were various local traditions which seemed to vary around the country. Commonly suicides were buried at crossroads and sometimes buried head-downwards. A description of this practice is given here by the Council for British Archaeology.

I am not aware of any specific organised records for such burials.

  • 1
    Could you add to your answer a brief citation for your link, so that the reader can see what you are citing without being forced to click through? Having the information in the answer itself means the answer is still useful if there is link rot.
    – Jan Murphy
    Jan 18, 2016 at 17:50
  • I wonder whether the practice of burying criminals (that then included suicides) at cross roads arose from much earlier times when displaying a corpse of a criminal (before burying them nearby) may have been an advertisement condemning bad behaviour. By being at a cross road it might get more viewings than along a single road. Once the practice came to be considered barbaric, perhaps they thought cross roads were as good a place to bury them as any.
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 18, 2016 at 22:03

They were buried at crossroads as that was the nearest a cross there was. Often a stake was buried in their chest to make sure they didn't return as a vampire

  • 2
    Welcome to G&FH:SE. A supporting citation to support your assertion would greatly improve your answer. May 1, 2023 at 15:15

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