Buried in No Time

You don’t have to look at many death and burial records to get the impression that the modal length of time between each event is three days, in the 19th century at least, (and in a Christian nation).

With only a burial record to hand, I routinely add my person of interest’s death three days earlier.

Adding “about” is obviously good practice but whenever I later found a death record the caution proved to have been unnecessary in most cases. But not all.

I looked online yesterday for figures that would show how often a three-day “guess” might be correct. Genealogists in York have compiled a dataset that answers my needs perfectly. They looked at almost 122,000 death and burial records and found that almost 53,000 of the departed had been buried on the third day.

So, a 3-day estimate would be right, roughly, two times in five. From my experience of Filey folk, I thought the odds of success would have been higher than that. If for some reason you decided to guess at two days, or four, your chance of being correct would fall to one in five.

Burials two, three or four days after death account for about 89% of the total.

What triggered this passing interest was finding a couple of people who were buried on the day of their death. I couldn’t really imagine why this would happen in Victorian Britain and doubted the reliability of the sources.

The York experience shows that 220 people were buried on the day they died, or 0.18%, or 1 chance in about 55,500 of being right if you placed your bet on zero.

Here is a graph of the York distribution for the first 9 postmortem days.


One of the two Filonians quickly interred is Henry EMPTAGE. He was 17-years-old. His father, a preventive officer and coastguard, had drowned off Flamborough Head in January 1841 and when the Census was taken a few months later, Henry was staying with older brother James in Lincolnshire, with James’ wife Elizabeth and her father, William HARRISON. (Some records give “HARVISON”.)

The York dataset can be found here.

Victorian Monsters offers a lot of information about Victorian funerary practices.

Find the EMPTAGE pedigree on FamilySearch Tree. (Filey Genealogy & Connections gives James the Coastguard different parents and I’m not sure yet which resource is more reliable.)


In memory of CHARLOTTE, widow of JAMES EMPTAGE, who died Sep 8th 1873, aged 78 years.

Also the above named JAMES EMPTAGE, Chief Officer of the Coast Guard, Filey, died Jan 15th 1841 and was interred at Flamboro, aged 47 years.

Likewise, ELLEN their daughter, died Aug. 27th 1851, aged 27 years.

HENRY, died May 6th 1843, aged 17 years, and GEORGE, July 21st 1831, aged 1 year 9 months.

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