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October 18, 2004

Coffin Plates - A Great Source of Birth & Death Dates


The history of Coffin Plates or casket plates is a long, but not very well documented one. Generally made of a soft metal like pewter, silver, brass, copper or tin, coffin plates are decorative adornments attached to the coffin that contain information about the deceased. These plates are an overlooked free genealogical resource. They often contain the Birth date and Death date and can be used as a substitute for vital records.

The oldest ones that I have seen date from the 17th century (1600~1699) and were reserved for people of some stature, in other words people who had money. As time went on more people were able to afford the luxury of a Coffin Plate and with the coming of the industrial revolution the cost of the plates went down so much that by the middle of the 19th century almost every family could afford them.

At the same time that coffin plates were increasing in popularity the practice of removing the plates from the coffin before burial increased. The coffin plates were often removed to be kept as mementos by the loved ones of the deceased. This practice peaked in the late 19th century (1880~1899).

In rare cases the plates are removed when the grave is disturbed for some reason like cemetery relocation. This is more common in Europe were space for graves is at a premium.

Unfortunately these valuable resources are scattered and there has not been a single repository for this valuable free genealogy resource until now. It is my intention to create a coffin plate database and a home for the unwanted plates themselves.

You can see the start of this project at

In some rare cases the plates can contain even more information like place of birth or the occupation of the deceased.

If you want to know more about what things qualify as a true Vital Records there is a good article Genealogy Without Sources is Mythology! at the Olive Tree at




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