Category Archives: Funeral Customs

New Genea-Gem: History of American Funeral Customs

Death is definitely a morbid topic – pun intended! However, understanding social history during an ancestor’s lifetime is an important part of fleshing out what his/her life was like, including death and burial.

There are two genea-gem websites which can enrich your knowledge about records and customs pertaining to deaths in the family throughout American history. The first is Ancestors at Rest.

Contact information on the site is to Brian, no surname given. He describes Ancestors at Rest as: a genealogy site . . .designed to help genealogists find the free death records of their ancestors and . . . to learn a little about the customs, traditions and culture of death in the past.

There are links all over the page, taking the visitor to information on coffin plate death records, (which I had never heard of, except on caskets of royals, nobility, etc.) and cenotaph records (monuments to those who have died but are buried elsewhere) and even to some international unique records, like German death cards.

There are even more links to funeral cards, ledgers, family Bibles, Civil War-era photo albums and much more.

Brian is also in the process of digitizing some of these records and posting them online. Donations are accepted for this, but the website is free to use.

There are many references to Lorine McGinnis-Schulze’s Olive Tree Genealogy website, but I haven’t been able to figure out if Brian is just a big fan of Lorine’s (rightly so!) or if this is an extended part of her website.

The second website is much more of a reference and educational website. It’s the National Museum of Funeral History.

This is an actual museum located in Houston, Texas. However, the website contains links about many topics: history of embalming, Dia de los Muertos, coffins and caskets of the past, Presidential funerals and much more.

Here are several other resources about death customs and funeral home history:

The Funeral Source
Funeral Wise
Seven Strange Facts About Colonial Funerals
Deaths and Funerals in Colonial America
Funerals in Eighteenth Century Virginia
Burial Practices in Southern Appalachia
Death and Mourning in the Victorian Era
Customs and Fashions in Old New England
Funeral Traditions in Colonial New England
Funerals (worldwide)