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There are two people in my database that seem to have two records about their burials -- one in Massachusetts, and one in Devon. I haven't found any other information that would indicate these are records about different people with the same name. Is it possible that they were re-interred, and if so, where might I go to find more information about their burial in England?

Cecil E. Elliott, son of Charles Elliott and Augusta Knowles

  • Death Certificate from Massachusetts, Deaths, 1841-1915 on FamilySearch (image). Reference ID: 403 , GS Film number: 2313119 , Digital Folder Number: 4283142 , Image Number: 01674

According to the Massachusetts Death Certificate, Cecil died on 14 Feb 1909 at the age of 30 years 6 months and 12 days. Burial was 17 February 1909 in Forestdale Cemetery in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The informant is Charles Elliott (his father). The name of the undertaker might be "Mills Lathrop". I have an article about his death from one of the local papers, which says that Cecil was a member of Grace Congregational Church, but it does not say what funeral home was in charge.

  • Devon Burials, Archive reference 3040A/PR/1/17, Burials in Slapton, St James the Greater, Year 1911, page 32, Entry No. 254, by H.G. Warner, the local vicar:

burial record for Cecil E. Elliott

According to this, Cecil was 29 years old. The abode says Slapton (crossed out) followed by Holyoke, Hampden, Mass; the burial date is 22 Mar 1911.

Charles Edwin Knowles, son of Arthur Knowles and Fanny Cole

  • Death Registration (city register) image from Massachusetts, Deaths, 1841-1915 on FamilySearch, Reference ID: v 529 p 100 , GS Film number: 2057736 , Digital Folder Number: 4289821 , Image Number: 823

According to this source, Charles died on 12 Jan 1902 at the age of 8 years 7 months and 8 days. Burial in Forestdale Cemetery in Holyoke, Massachusetts (no date given). I have not located any newspaper accounts for this death, and the register doesn't say, so I don't know what funeral home was in charge of the burial.

  • Devon Burials, Archive reference 3040A/PR/1/17, Burials in Slapton, St James the Greater, Year 1902, page 24, Entry No. 187, by H.G. Warner, the local vicar:

burial record for Charles L. Knowles

According to this, Charles was 8 years old. The abode says Forestdale followed by Holyoke, Mass; the burial date is 04 May 1902. (There is a problem in that the entry reads "Charles L. Knowles, but the L is in a much fainter line than the rest of the entry.)

When I first saw these records, I assumed that the deceased were entered into the parish records in Slapton because their families had returned to England, and they wanted a record of their children's resting place in the parish records. But I had forgotten that the English registers are not death records, as they are in Massachusetts, but burial records. Would a vicar enter a burial if no burial took place?

How would I find out if these two people were actually taken to England and re-interred there? If the bodies were accompanied, what are the chances I could find someone in the UK Incoming passenger lists? Would any other records survive in England?

Note that in the USA, there might be two places to find information about a burial -- the funeral home which took care of the burial, and the association in charge of the cemetery.

I plan to hire a professional to search the records at Forestdale Cemetery for me, but I haven't yet done so. Presumably if someone were interred there and then disinterred, there would have been a record made of that, but who knows if any records survived.

I have no idea how common it was in this time period to send someone's body home when they died overseas, or what the expense might be, so any insight is welcome.


Additional records and background:

  • Devon Baptisms in the parish of Slapton, St James the Greater: an entry on 01 Oct 1893 for Charles Edwin Knowles, son of Arthur Ernest and Fanny
  • a birth registration for Cecil Edward Elliott in 3Q 1879 in Totnes Reg District (England census records indicate he was born in Dartmouth; those parish records are not yet online).
  • a death record for Cecil's sister Lillian d. 04 Apr 1894. Note that the register header says "Residence, and Place of Death, and Burial (if elsewhere)" -- presumably she is buried in Holyoke but no cemetery is listed. I have not found a burial record for her in Slapton.
  • a notice of Cecil's death published on Monday, February 15, 1909 in The Republican (Springfield, MA), issue 279, page 8; he is identified as the son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Elliott.
  • an account of Cecil's funeral published on Thursday, February 18, 1909 in The Republican (Springfield, MA), issue 282 page 10; it says that burial was in Forestdale Cemetery. These and other articles in the Republican identify Cecil as a member of Grace Congregational church -- another possible source of records about his life, if not his burial.
  • prior searches of the British Newspaper Archives gave information about Augusta Elliott's probate, but I did not find articles mentioning either Cecil Elliott or Charles Knowles.

Cecil and Charles are cousins -- Augusta Knowles is Arthur's older sister (assuming all my identifications are correct).


Note this answer to the question Reading comment in 1825 baptism register? What statutes are in effect in this period?

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    "Would a vicar enter a burial if no burial took place?" Possibly. I have seen (and started) more than one thread about exactly what the meaning of an entry in a burial register is. The "obvious" answer is - it means a burial, so a funeral with burial elsewhere would not be entered. However, it was clear that examples exist of funerals being recorded even if the burial was elsewhere and nowhere to do with the church. But that's not your case either because the funeral had already taken place! – AdrianB38 Jun 20 '14 at 22:05
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    Could this have been a cremation? I'm not sure when cremations became legal in either the UK or the USA. But recording a burial of the ashes sounds slightly more plausible from a transport viewpoint. My gut feeling is that burial of a body from elsewhere would be a prime candidate for a register annotation, not least because it circumvents the rules about needing a death cert. But absence of an annotation doesn't mean there was nothing remarkable. A note might have been made in the priest's diary and nothing more. I suspect you're more likely to find evidence at the US cemetery... – AdrianB38 Jun 20 '14 at 22:12
  • @AdrianB38 -- very good point about cremations. If the funeral home records still exist, that might indicate whether Cecil was buried or not. – Jan Murphy Jun 21 '14 at 7:04
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    The two things that crossed my mind when I saw this question, are not buried due to frozen ground and cemetery moves which they may have stored the body of the individual in a cold cellular until it can be buried. The frozen ground may be a case if in Massachusetts based on time of year. Not related to your case, but the other thing I think about with the title question is cemetery moves. – CRSouser Dec 9 '14 at 10:42
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    @JanMurphy - done. With some supplementary info re cremations I found in Surrey. – AdrianB38 Jun 19 '15 at 11:28
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+50

"Would a vicar enter a burial if no burial took place?"

Possibly. I have seen (and started) more than one thread about exactly what the meaning of an entry in a burial register is. The "obvious" answer is - it means a burial, so a funeral with burial elsewhere would not be entered. However, it was clear that examples do exist of funerals at that church being recorded even if the burial was elsewhere and nowhere to do with the church. But that's not your case either because the funeral had already taken place! On this basis, it seems highly unlikely that an entry was made "just for the record". Something must surely have happened in Devon.

Could this have been a cremation?

The first official cremation in the UK was in 1885 (see Wikipedia) at Woking though initial usage was minimal and burial authorities were only authorised to expand into crematoria with an Act of 1902.

Presumably any cremation would have been in the USA where crematoria were in existence in the late 19th century according to that first Wikipedia link. Transporting ashes sounds easier than transporting a body.

Recording a burial of ashes would surely merit an entry in the burial register. I have an example of a burial of ashes in 1914 in Surrey, where the burial in the family vault, after cremation elsewhere, is recorded in the parish register. (I do have to say that this seemed so unusual that the parish clerk made explicit notes that this was what was happening, though the register in question contains a lot of extra details such as plot numbers, so the extra detail there - compared to its absence here - may not be significant).

My gut feeling is that burial of a body from elsewhere would be a prime candidate for a register annotation, not least because it perhaps circumvents the rules about needing a death cert. But absence of an annotation doesn't mean there was nothing remarkable. A note might have been made in the priest's diary and nothing more. I suspect you're more likely to find evidence at the US cemetery.

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