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Virginia Funeral Programs

Toni Carrier
by Toni Carrier
Portrait of Claudie Mae Hamilton With Child and One of Her Quilts in Gainesville Florida. Courtesy of Florida Memory Collection, Florida State Archives

The first bit of advice we give to everyone who’s thinking of starting their ancestor research is “Find the person in your family who collects the funeral programs.”

Why? Because Homegoing programs celebrate a person’s life within their circle of loved ones, and most every loved one is mentioned in the funeral program.

Funeral programs also contain a biographical timeline of an ancestor’s life – their birth date, the names of their parents, their life achievements – all things that might take you years to learn through documentary research and oral history.

And if you did not know the ancestor whose funeral program you are reading, you will know them in some small part by the time you’ve read the funeral program.

Funeral programs connect us to our ancestors within the warm embrace of family – the legacy they left for us, and through which they live on. The legacy we carry today.

They belong to us, and we belong to them. A funeral program tells us why and how this is so.

About This Collection

The FamilySearch collection Virginia, African-American Funeral Programs, 1935-2009 is a searchable collection, with images, of funeral programs gathered by the Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society of Virginia (MPAAGHS). 

The earliest records date to 1935, but the majority of the collection covers the time span from the mid-1900s to 2009. You can search this collection or browse its 22,727 images. If you are browsing, it’s important to note that the collection is arranged alphabetically by the name of the person donating the funeral program, not the name of the deceased.

What’s In This Collection

A funeral program may contain the deceased’s name, age, dates of birth and death and names of family members and loved ones. Those that include obituaries also provide a biographical sketch from which you can start your timeline for your research.

For an in-depth look at this collection, please see the collection’s Learn More page.

The first bit of advice we give to everyone who’s thinking of starting their ancestor research is “Find the person in your family who collects the funeral programs.”

Researching From This Collection

A funeral program can be a rich resource for preparing, or adding to, a timeline for your ancestor.

Funeral Program of Thomas Boykin, Jr.
“Virginia, African-American Funeral Programs, 1935-2009,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-897S-4JC8?cc=1880968&wc=9YDR-168%3A1291556401 : 5 November 2014), Acree, Franklin to Blackwell, Lovicie > image 449 of 2612; citing Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society of Virginia (MPAAGHS), Tappahannock, Virginia and Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia.
Funeral Program of Thomas Boykin, Jr.
“Virginia, African-American Funeral Programs, 1935-2009,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L97S-4JKX?cc=1880968&wc=9YDR-168%3A1291556401 : 5 November 2014), Acree, Franklin to Blackwell, Lovicie > image 450 of 2612; citing Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society of Virginia (MPAAGHS), Tappahannock, Virginia and Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia.

Let’s look at the funeral program for Thomas Boykin, Jr., which contains a wealth of family information:

Name: Thomas Boykin Jr
Titles and Terms: Jr
Event Type: Obituary
Event Place: Virginia, United States
Gender: Male
Relationship to Deceased: Deceased
Birth Date: 16 Nov 1917
Birthplace: Sumter,, South Carolina
Death Date: 18 Jan 2006

Spouse and Children

Mabel Pearl ByrdWifeFemale
H Deborah BoykinChildUnknown
Valerie BoykinChildUnknown
Gregory BoykinSonMale
Glenn BoykinChildUnknown

Parents and Siblings

Reverend Thomas Boykin SrFatherMale
Helen Alston BoykinParentUnknown

Extended Family

Larry WalkerSon-in-LawMale
Lisa Terry BoykinDaughter-in-LawFemale
Diane Clarke BoykinDaughter-in-LawFemale
Rhiannon WalkerGrandchildUnknown
Rachelle WalkerGrandchildUnknown
CidneeGrandchildUnknown
Olivia BoykinGranddaughterFemale
Maya BoykinGrandchildUnknown
Adell AlsopSister-in-LawFemale
Cora ByrdSister-in-LawFemale
Floyd ByrdBrother-in-LawMale
Robert AlsopBrother-in-LawMale

Others on Record

Ulysses LyonsNon RelativeMale

GS Film Number: 007021869
Digital Folder Number: 007021869
Image Number: 00453

“Virginia, African-American Funeral Programs, 1935-2009,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVJR-5T5J : 15 March 2018), Ulysses Lyons in entry for Thomas Boykin Jr, ; citing Middle Peninsula African-American Genealogical and Historical Society of Virginia (MPAAGHS), Tappahannock, Virginia and Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia; FHL microfilm 7,021,869.

Funeral programs connect us to our ancestors within the warm embrace of family – the legacy they left for us, and through which they live on. The legacy we carry today. They belong to us, and we belong to them. A funeral program tells us why and how this is so.

Researching from This Collection

To research from a funeral program, first carefully extract every bit of information in the program. If you haven’t already, create a family group sheet for that ancestor and fill it in using the information in the program. Then, use the obituary to construct a timeline for your ancestor’s life, or add to the timeline you have already started.

Next, follow the leads to find more records for this family. Search for other records (death certificate, funeral home records, cemetery records, etc.) that may further document the ancestor’s death.

You can start working from your family group sheet by searching for other records for the family members whose names you have learned.

You can start working from your timeline by searching for other records that document events in your ancestor’s life. Also look to identify gaps in your ancestor’s timeline and seek records that will help you fill the gaps. The FamilySearch Wiki page United States Record Finder will help you choose records to search, based upon what you wish to learn about your ancestor.

There are some important things a funeral program can reveal for your research. Let’s look at a few of those.

Funeral Programs Can Reveal Maiden Names of Female Ancestors

In the example we’re working from, we learn the maiden names of Mr. Boykin’s wife and his mother. We also learn the maiden names of his sons’ wives. We can use this information to find more records for them prior to their marriage.

Funeral Programs Can Reveal the Names of Married Daughters

Although our current example does not contain the name of a married daughter, funeral programs and obituaries often do. This can lead to a research breakthrough if you did not know who a daughter married and lost the document trail for her after she left her parents’ home. This can lead you to marriage records and other records for the married daughter.

Funeral Programs Can Reveal the Names of Parents of the Deceased

In our example, we learn that Mr. Boykin’s parents were Reverend Thomas Boykin, Sr. and Helen Alston Boykin. We can now search for Mr. Boykin’s mother Helen Alston in records made before she married Mr. Boykin’s father.

We also learn that Mr. Boykin’s father was a Reverend. We can search for more records for his father in historical newspapers and religious publications. Robin Foster has written several blog posts about tracing Bishop William H. Heard through newspapers and religious publications. To see which resources she used and search those resources, you can start with her first article Bishop William H. Heard’s (1850-1937) Autobiography Documents Enslavement to Bishopric in A.M.E. Church, then follow her series forward.

Explore More: Related Resources

FamilySearch’s Virginia Research Page may help you locate more records for the state of Virginia. The Wiki page African American Resources for Virginia will point you toward specific resources for African American genealogy research in Virginia.

To learn more about records documenting deaths, you can view BlackProGen LIVE! Ep 78: Tales from the Undertaker: African American Cemeteries and Funeral Homes.

To learn more about timelines and how to use them in your research, please see the articles Timelines Keep Your Genealogy Research Moving Forward by Dr. Shelley Viola Murphy and African American Genealogy: How Using a Timeline Helps in Your Research by Robin Foster.

The FamilySearch Wiki’s United States Record Finder page will help you select records to consult, based on what you would like to learn about your ancestor.

More FamilySearch Wiki Resources for African American Genealogy

Researching African American Genealogy provides step-by-step guidance for beginning your ancestor search, as well as links to online resources.

Quick Guide to African American Records contains information on beginning research tips, links to suggested guides for beginning your search for African American ancestors, overviews of major record sets, tips for finding the slaveholder, links to tutorials for African American genealogy in the FamilySearch Learning Center, and links to other online and offline resources.

Southern States Slavery and Bondage Collections will help you locate digitized searchable collections as well as digitized microfilms in the FamilySearch catalog related to slavery and bondage. The page is arranged by state. 

African American Genealogy provides links to Wiki pages for researching African Americans in each U.S. state.

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