Often we see terms in the old records and we have a basic understanding of what they mean. At other times we don’t have a clue. In the case of Episcopal Church burial records we will know the basic terms used in 1901. However, there’s a second tier of insights which may not be so obvious. For example, what about someone who committed suicide? What was the church policy? Can a non-member be buried in the Episcopal Cemetery? These types of questions can affect your research in no small way!
The American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia
This is where William James Miller’s The American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1901) becomes a valued research tool. It is available on the Internet for download. Although this work is a product of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, as expected, there is a heavy historical United Kingdom emphasis. This makes this dictionary useful for not only your American immigrant research, but also for other places where the Irish settled or simply for your Church of Ireland research.
Dictionary of Episcopal Burial Terms
When using the dictionary below, consider the writing style of the period which includes the use of very long sentences and paragraphs. I am preserving these in order to provide the flavor for what the readers saw and experienced in 1901. Also, notice the undertone in some definitions meant to counter the rise of American Evangelicals by defining what is proper Episcopal procedure.
Burial: The Burial Office set forth in the Prayer Book is intended for the Church’s own people, and therefore it cannot be used over an unbaptized adult, because not being baptized he is not a member of the Church. It cannot be used over an excommunicated person because he has been cut off from the Church’s privileges. It cannot be used over one who has committed suicide, even if a member of the Church, for by this act he has voluntarily removed himself “from the sphere of its sanctions,” and to whom all branches of the Church as well as our own have ever denied the use of this Office. The reason for these prohibitions may be learned when we consider that the Burial Office is founded on the fact of our incorporation into Christ’s Mystical Body, on which is founded our hope of the General Resurrection. The whole service is colored by this belief and is illustrated and confirmed by the Lesson read from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians, setting forth the doctrine that our Lord’s Incarnation is the source of all spiritual life and, therefore, the source of eternal life in the world to come.
The proper place for the use of the Burial Office is the Church and it out not to be used in houses except for great cause.
Crypt: A vault beneath a church, more especially under the Chancel and sometimes used for burial. The word is sometimes given to the basement of a church where services are held.
Funerals: The solemn Burial of the Dead. In the Church there is no such thing as “Preaching a Funeral,” as it is called, but the reverent and devout committal of the “body to the ground,” “looking for the General Resurrection in the last day and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Plainness and simplicity should mark so holy a function.
Parish Register: A book in which all births, Baptisms, Confirmations, deaths, and marriages that occur in the Parish are recorded, together with the list of Families and Communicants. The importance of the Parish Register and the care with which it should be kept will appear when it is considered that it is a legal document.
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