I got to attend my first Back To Our Past conference in Dublin a few weeks ago and there was one talk in particular that I had earmarked to attend: Finding Your American Cousins - A New Source for Massachusetts Mortuary Records, 1880 - 1943. This talk was about a topic I have blogged about before, the mortuary records of the Catholic Order of Foresters (COF) (access here and here).
To quickly recap, the COF was a fraternal life insurance organization founded in Boston in 1879 by a group of Irish immigrants. Over the ensuing decades, the organization spread throughout the state and by the end of the 19th century there were ninety-five branches throughout Massachusetts.
Mary Choppa, of the Massachusetts based Irish Ancestral Research Association, and Joanne Riley, an archivist at the Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston, crossed the Atlantic to give the talk. They started by outlining what the Catholic Order of Foresters was, what information was contained in the mortuary records, and how they came into the possession of TIARA and then the Healey library.
The genealogical strength of the mortuary records lie in the considerable level of detail that a person had to provide to get an insurance policy and the efforts and correspondence that were undertaken to ensure all relevant parties received a payout when the policy holder passed away. I hope to have an example of such a mortuary record on this blog in the next couple of weeks but for now I'll summarize the main points that were discussed.
- Women were admitted to the Order, starting in 1894
- The branches that were set up all over Massachusetts were called courts and there are surviving records of the activities of each court
- There are 79,000 records available and they cover the years 1879 up to the late 1960s/early 1970s.
- Each record contains between 8 and 29 pages
- Information in the records include details such as name, address, information about parents and siblings including when and how parents died, name and address of one friend, details about beneficiaries including maiden and married name of females, names of family members even if they were not beneficiaries
- The beneficiaries were sometimes family members who lived in Ireland. The records for such a person include correspondence between the family members in Ireland and the COF.
- They are currently open for people to access up to 1943. A 72 year rule of access applies and as each year passes, one more new year of records will be accessible to the public
- A different death certificate was supplied than the state/city issued civil death certificate, which can potentially have different information
- The court that a person was a member of can indicate where the person resided in the state
The speakers noted that practically every Irish American family in Massachusetts today has at least one ancestor who can be found in these records. Currently, you can search an index of names through 1935 and apply to the Healey library for a copy of the documents. Records for the years 1936 to 1943 are also available and contact should be made with the Healey Library to search those years. An added bonus was disclosed at that talk in that the records up to 1935 will be making their way onto Familysearch.org in the future. They will be indexed and all images will be digitized. No date was provided so keep an eye on the regular Familysearch.org new record announcements.