Thursday, 20 September 2012

Magherafelt burials launch a new genealogy site

Anyone with ancestors from the Magherafelt area of County Londonderry, which roughly sits between Lough Neagh and the Sperrin Mountains, will be keen to check out a new online collection of graveyard records commissioned by the local district council.

Magherafelt District Council cares for some 60 graveyards across the district. These include parish churchyards, modern cemeteries and old burial grounds once connected to workhouses, penal institutions and decommissioned churches. It commissioned a Belfast company of graveyard surveyors to survey and create a detailed map for each of them, to take photos and record inscription, and then manage/upload the information collected to a free-to-access website. The results from the survey can now be found on

My quick search of the site reveals 24,415 entries. The earliest date of death I found in my recce was 14 February 1800. This related to a 27-year-old Robert Kelly who lies buried in plot 303, Magherafelt Milltown St. John's RC Churchyard. With him in the plot are three members of his family. The full inscription of the stone has been transcribed and a photograph of the stone can be viewed. In addition to details of the deceased in this churchyard, the site directed me to a brief history of the church, a printable location map, an interactive grave map, a link to historical documents relating to this church and a link to 'persons of interest' buried there.

The most recent date of death I came across was 21 June 2012.

It's obviously terrific to have this depth of information so professionally presented and freely available to genealogists worldwide, but I was curious as to the District Council's motivation. Head of Community Services Michael Browne told Irish Genealogy News that the online facility will be extremely useful to those researchers who contact the local Tourist Offices for details of their ancestors.

'The Tourist Offices receive enquiries on a daily basis from family historians around the world,' he said. 'They can now be directed to the website. With its simple and quick search, they will be able to see for themselves where their ancestors are buried, and receive good, factual information.

'It will also, we hope, act as a hook to get them to visit the local area.'

So that's fine and dandy, but what about those parts of the site that suggest Birth and Marriage records might be in the plan? It seems these are wish-list items for now. But if they should ever materialise, they would be civil registration records rather than parish records.

Rather less 'wish list' is the drop-down menu of locations searchable on the website. While only Magherafelt returns any entries, the intention is clearly there for the site to include the results of many more graveyard surveys. In fact, every district council in Northern Ireland is in the list.

I contacted the graveyard surveyors, GSS (NI) Ltd, which trades as Everafter. Business Development Manager Teresa told me that everafter has contacted all Northern Ireland councils and, indeed, several in the Republic. While some councils are interested in graveyard surveys and the detailed maps that can be produced from them, the records that can be gathered will only be added to the discovereverafter website if a full management/upload commission is received from the council.

This, then, is a website to watch, as more surveys are completed and similar batches of burial records are made available.