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G is for Graveyards

Graveyards, Churchyards, Cemeteries, Burial grounds… What’s the difference and what records survive?

Graveyards can be defined as a place of burial and therefore the term acts as a catch-all but there are differences between churchyards and cemeteries.

Churches and Churchyards

Traditionally Parish Churches and churchyards were the burial grounds for the inhabitants of the parish.  Often the wealthier inhabitants were buried in the church or vaults with effigies, monumental brass and carved tombs as markers. Others were buried in the churchyard.  Stone memorials tended not be used until the later 17th century but many have been affected by the environmental conditions so can be difficult to read.  Suffolk Family History Society have undertaken projects to record Memorial Inscriptions (MIs) in many of the churchyards across Suffolk.  These transcripts are available in the Record Office – please contact the relevant branch to see what parishes are covered.

The records of these burials can be found in the parish burial registers.  You can search for these on the catalogue by entering “(the name of the parish) parish” into the search box ie “Chevington parish”.  This brings back the collection level records for Chevington Parish Council and Chevington Parish.  Click on Chevington Parish and then use the hierarchy to navigate to the registration section of the catalogue. All of the baptism, marriage and burial registers will then be listed.  If you visit you’ll find that the registers pre 1900 are on microfiche or film – staff can help you get started using the machines.  Alternatively you can use the paid for Research Service if you are unable to visit the record office in person.


By the early 1800s churchyards were beginning to fill up, particularly in the larger cities.  The Metropolitan Interment Act of 1850 empowered the General Board of Health to take over all burials in the capital, close churchyards and create new cemeteries.  In 1853 the Burials (beyond the Metropolis) Act extended the system of civil cemeteries to the rest of the country, with responsibility falling to the district, borough and parish councils.   The burial registers for cemeteries are often deposited at the record office but some are still held by the relevant cemetery authority.

The following towns and villages have a local authority cemetery:

Bury St Edmunds, Cavendish, Clare, East Bergholt, Elmswell, Exning, Eye, Framlingham, Halesworth, Haverhill, Ipswich, Lavenham, Laxfield, Leiston, Lowestoft, Newmarket, Little Stonham, Sudbury, Wickham Market, Woodbridge, Yoxford

Contact the relevant branch to find out what records we hold.  You can use the “What branch do I need” page to check.