Death Resources

There are a number of excellent resources on the subject of death and burials. They break down into a number of overlapping categories:

Death certificates
Burial records
Gravestones: photographs and inscriptions
Obituaries/death notices

Death certificates

After 1855 all deaths in Scotland were officially recorded. These death certificates are available online at Death certificates record the details of the deceased as provided by a relative or friend. It provides information on the age of death (so you can work out the birth date), address, medical condition, and the names of the parents. In many cases the death certificate indicates the cemetery in which a person was buried. In order to find the exact location and glean more useful clues, or to enable you to visit the grave, you need to consult the burial registers.

Case study: Isabella Mitchell died aged 38 years old on 26 May 1859, her parents were Jean Sampson and George Mitchell (deceased) of Dragonhall. She died of tuberculosis and the death was notified by her brother James and not by her husband Charles Forrest.

Before 1855, the situation is less clear cut as death/burial records were supposed to be maintained by the Church of Scotland. However, there are many gaps eg there no surviving burial records for Montrose Parish Church. Deaths and burials recorded in the Old Parish records are available on microfilm in Angus Archives and the Angus libraries. A searchable version is available on

In many cases the death certificate indicates the cemetery in which a person was buried. In order to find the exact location and glean more useful clues, or to enable you to visit the grave, you need to consult the burial registers.

Burial records

"Burial records are often seen as the end of one trail but in fact they can be the start of another as they frequently reveal so much about generations of a family, opening up new and previously unknown avenues in an ancestral search. So having the records online provides a wonderful new research tool for people trying to unravel their family history." Nick Barratt, genealogy expert.

Angus burial records are now available exclusively at The information provided in burial registers includes who purchased the lair owner and who else is buried in the lair. These can provide clues for further investigation.

Case study. Isabella Mitchell's mother Jean Sampson purchased the lair in Newmonthill Cemetery in which she buried her daughter. Jean did not or could not erect a gravestone. Jean was buried in the lair in 1866, after which it was also used by her brother-in-law Robert Mitchell and his family. It was later adopted by Joseph Mitchell, chicken farmer in Letham and his family. Thus one burial record provides the location of a grave, and offers further family clues to follow and investigate.


Many gravestones provide information where no death record or burial record exists, especially in the years before the introduction of civil registration in 1855 and back in time to the 18th century. Stones can often provide additional useful information concerning occupations, family members who died elsewhere and other useful clues.

Gravestone inscription

The gravestone itself is often a beautiful object in its own right. They offer visual clues about your ancestor - did they choose mainly symbols of death, is there a trade emblem?

Gravestone inscriptions can be accessed through publications such as "the pre-1855 Monumental Inscriptions of Angus" edited by Alison Mitchell, and the surveys of Arbroath Abbey, Brechin Cathedral and Montrose Parish Church gravestones, which are available in Angus Archives. Tay Valley Family History Society provide an invaluable and gravestone inscription books and CDs. These are available for use in Angus Archives and in the local collections of Angus libraries.

Angus Archives holds a large and growing collection of gravestone photographs.

Obituaries/death notices

Obituary of James Mitchell

These are usually found in local newspapers and a few in local town directories or yearbooks. Arbroath and Forfar newspapers have been indexed. Obituaries were more often reserved for prominent members of society, and tend to have more hyperbole than useful facts during the Victorian era. Brief death notices can usually provide good basic information concerning addresses, occupations, spouses and age. If a death has been unusual in any respect, the newspaper may contain an article about it. Angus Archives and Arbroath Library have copies of the Arbroath Newspaper Index, while Forfar Library holds the index for the Forfar newspapers.

Case study: Obituary of James Mitchell, the brother of Isabella Mitchell

This obituary takes the history of the Mitchell family back to the 18th century!


Many Scots didn't bother with lawyers to make wills, often having little to leave. In legal terms, they died intestate. Wills were mainly for the rich or those with land to leave. These were known as a testament testamentar in which the deceased left a testament detailing how they wished their moveable property to be disposed, often written in their own words. These are available online at The index of wills is free to use, but a printout incurs a flat fee charge of £5.

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