Introducing York Cemetery Genealogists: The Grave Detectives!

Have you ever wondered where your great-grandparents were laid to rest?

Do you want to investigate that story handed down through the generations of your family about visiting a grave near a tree or next to a wall, maybe even finding that exact spot yourself?

Are you researching your family history?


People with these kinds of questions and more are frequent visitors to the Genealogy Office at York Cemetery.  Usually they leave with at least some of the answers, sometimes with more questions and often with much more information than they asked for!

The office is located at the Gatehouse and in normal times is open every Friday from 10.00 am until 3.00 pm.  There are several volunteers, but as it’s a very small office you probably won’t find more than three of us there at any one time.  You can also contact the office by email or telephone and details are on the website,

Here are some of the familiar faces you might see in the office or around the cemetery:


David is a local historian who has been involved with York Cemetery for many years.  He is very knowledgeable and what he doesn’t know he will do his utmost to find out for you.  If your family has lived in York for some time, he will maybe remember your father, uncle or grandparents!  It is mainly thanks to David’s hard work in transcription that we have a computer record of every burial that has taken place in the cemetery since January 1837.

As well as genealogy, Dennis has re-written many of the self-guided trails within the cemetery and leads some of the very informative Sunday afternoon walks held during summer months.  Both David and Dennis are expert grave-finders.

As well as dealing with face-to-face and email enquiries, Janet helps to maintain the genealogy website mentioned above and our Facebook page and group which you might like to visit.

Jane is an enthusiastic amateur genealogist who enjoys helping people find relatives and sort out their family tree.

So, what might happen when you walk through the door of the genealogy office on a Friday with your query?

After a warm welcome the volunteers will firstly look through the database for the subject of your query.  Sometimes we don’t find the person at once – there might be alternative spellings, or very occasionally faulty memories!  Sometimes, we might need to re-direct you to the Crematorium or Fulford Cemetery.

If we find the person you’re asking about, we will usually be able to provide more details: address, age at death, type of burial, whether there is a memorial and what is on it.

A memorial will often lead you to other family members – either interred in the same grave or not.  Often, however, there isn’t a memorial: your relative might have been buried in a public grave along with unrelated people, or maybe the family couldn’t afford to provide one.

Sometimes the cause of death is included: This may include anything from one word to a very full description such as “Epileptic Apoplexy which occurred while kneeling saying his prayers at his bedside”.

For a small donation we can print out these details for you.

Then comes what for many is the exciting bit: we can try and escort you to the grave, although it is best to give us advance warning as graves are sometimes situated in obscure places, or there might be vegetation to be cleared.





Informal records of stillbirth burials were kept by the Cemetery Clerk between 1907 and 1969 and these are also available on the database.  Many families have been helped and comforted by the discovery of a stillborn infant’s resting place.

Other resources available include over 350 pedigrees of York families compiled by the late Hugh Murray, a Cemetery volunteer and historian, and a collection of photographs of people buried.  More photographs, information or corrections from family members and other researchers are always welcomed by the genealogists.

It’s not just York people who contact us.  We get enquiries from all over the world: Australia, the USA, South Africa, New Zealand, usually by email but often in person.

Students and Family History Societies have also been helped in their research.

During the recent lockdown when the cemetery has been closed, the genealogists have been busy responding to email enquiries in between working on the new database.  Now the cemetery is open once again, we have started providing grave visits by appointment with appropriate precautions against infection.  Keep a lookout on our Facebook page and website for further announcements.


There are currently no plans to re-open to genealogy office to the public (this is completely separate from the general Cemetery office), but we are all looking forward to the opening of the new Volunteers’ Centre later in the year, which will provide more space and improved facilities for all visitors.

The new Volunteers Centre under construction.

Thank you to Janet Jawando for this very informative post about the work of the Genealogy department at York Cemetery.  If you would like to be involved with or support the Volunteers please contact the Friends of York Cemetery 01904 601631 to ascertain how you can help.

All text © Janet Jawando 2020

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