Discover your ancestor who was buried in Berkshire, England, between 1536 and 1991. The records may reveal your ancestor’s burial date and burial place. You may also uncover the circumstances in which they died. Included in these records are those of Jethro Tull, not the progressive rock band of the same name, but the 18th century agricultural pioneer. This collection is published in partnership with Berkshire Family History Society and the Family History Federation.
Each record comprises a transcript of the original burial register. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include a combination of the following information about your ancestor:
Relative’s name and relationship
Later records may include further details. These additional details might include
Cause of death
Other details (such as coroner’s verdict, cremation, un-consecrated ground, private burial)
The record set comprises 830,723 records from 190 parishes in Berkshire and date from 1536 to 1966. Please note that no images are included in these records. The record set is a combination of transcripts of parish registers held at the Berkshire Archives created by Findmypast and additional transcripts contributed by the Berkshire Family History Society as well as, The College of Arms, the official heraldic authority for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and much of the Commonwealth including Australia and New Zealand. The records from The College of Arms are for Windsor, St George's Chapel and Welford & Wickham parishes. Berkshire is a county in southeast England, located to the west of London. It’s known as the Royal County of Berkshire due to the presence of Windsor Castle. Reading is the county town of Berkshire.
The ‘other details’ category on the transcripts can provide insight into changes in society from the 16th to the 20th century. The causes of death and the methods of burial reveal much about improvements in treatment of (and vaccination against) disease, the working lives of children, the evolution of transport from waggons to motor cars, and gradually changing attitudes towards suicide.
Deaths from illnesses
There are 557 transcripts that record smallpox as the cause of death, dating from 1644 to 1902. The decline of smallpox in the Berkshire records coincides with the establishment of the Vaccination Act of 1853, which ordered mandatory vaccination for babies up to three months old. The Act of 1867 extended the age requirement to 14 years, as well as adding penalties for vaccine refusal. Many others died from illnesses that are not a threat today. In 1767, Mary O’En of Speenhamland died of ‘p’, referring to the plague; one of hundreds recorded as death by plague from 1578 to 1786. Many of these occur during the Great Plague of 1655 to 1656 in England.
A number of children died of diseases that are easily treatable today. In 1793, seven-year-old Susanna Cawdwell of Appleford died of the measles. Five years later, six-year-old Elizabeth Knight succumbed to fatal ‘fits’. In 1808, three-year-old Henry Chapman of Appleford died of a ‘bad cold’. The language used to describe the cause of death can reflect attitudes of the time; for example, in 1789, Thomas Justice died of ‘intemperance’. In 1810, Elizabeth Church died, aged 85, of ‘decay of nature’. The language used to describe disease itself has also changed. For example, there are 143 records for ‘consumption’ but only one for ‘tuberculosis’.
Deaths by vehicle
In 1728, Samuel Lay of Aldworth, was ‘killed by waggon accident’. Many others in the 1700s and early 1800s were killed either by falling from the shafts or being run over by the wheels of the waggon. With the production of the first automobile in Britain in 1897, the nature of transport accidents gradually changed. Seven-year-old Edwin Breach of Thatcham was the first person in the Berkshire burial index to be ‘killed by a motor car’ in 1904, with many more to suffer the same fate as cars became more popular. In 1897, William Barber of Basildon was, ‘killed by train, 3 passing together in a fog’.
Deaths by suicide
The notes are very telling about changing attitudes towards suicide. There are only 32 stated suicides in over 750,000 records, which itself implies that many were covered up or left unstated. Most of the coroners’ notes on suicide are in Latin. Suicide victims were often buried without religious service in remote, un-consecrated parts of the graveyard.
The earliest suicide victim in these records was Mic Mabelly of Kingston, who was buried in 1712 in Holy Cross Church, Sparsholt: ‘a felo-da-se [suicide] buried privately in the back side of the churchyard’. ‘Felo de se’ is an archaic Latin phrase meaning ‘felon of himself’, showing that the deceased had committed a crime that was punishable by a shameful burial. In 1823, Elizabeth Turner of Idstone was ‘buried under verdict of felo de se [suicide], no service being read’.
As the 18th century progressed, however, suicide came to be seen as an act of temporary insanity, which removed the criminal implications of the act. John Bulham of Speenhamland, who was buried in 1821, was said to have committed ‘laqueo ipse sibi necem conscivit insanus [suicide by hanging while insane]’. John Casson, who was buried in 1845 in Speenhamland, committed ‘ipse sibi mortem conscivit insanus ut spero [suicide while, I hope, insane]’. England’s more tolerant attitude towards suicide can be seen in the case of John Valentine Criddle’s death in 1955; his record states, ‘suicide, Christian burial’.
They say lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but it struck on two occasions in Blewbury, four decades apart. In 1884, Thomas Street of Blewbury was ‘killed by lightning’, while in 1844, Charles Mortimer Beasley endured the same fate.
In October 1940, Edward Arthur Henley, John Frederick Westall, and Kathleen Ann Mary Westall were ‘killed by enemy action’ in Ascot, with no further details provided.
Some of the deaths of people at work reveal details about the industries that employed people throughout the past four centuries in Berkshire. In 1665, William Morres of Bray, was ‘killed by a piece of timber at Oakley Wharfe’, and in 1825, Charles Batten of Bucks, Great Marlow, was ‘killed in the gravel pits’. In 1870, 14-year-old William James Bolton of Binfield was ‘killed 13 August at Winkfield while feeding a threshing machine’. A couple of years later, John Davis of Ashampstead Norris was ‘killed in a chalk well by the falling in of the chalk’.
Description of deaths
A number of records are intriguingly vague. Several are described as being buried in un-consecrated ground, but there is no explanation as to why. These are perhaps examples of suicide being left off the official report. In addition, the cause of death of numerous children and adults was listed as ‘decline’, with no reason given as to their decline. Vague descriptions of deaths include Thomas Huntley of Aldermaston in 1626 who ‘was killed in ye Box in ye 12 acres’ and eight-year-old John Briant of Newbury who was buried at St Nicolas Church in 1805. His cause of death is simply listed as ‘evil’.
Appallingly specific deaths
In 1582, Peeter Foche of Hungerford was ‘killed by misfortune of a knife’. In 1801, Thomas Morris of Binfield was ‘killed by a bull’. Fifteen years later, Daniel May of Arborfield also came to a bad end with an animal when he was ‘killed by a kick or a bruise of one of Mr Simond's horses’. In 1878, seven-year-old James Hedges of Wallingford ‘died from falling upon a pocket knife which went into the heart’.