VICTORIAN POSTMORTEM PHOTOS
July 15, 2012
Researcher Dave Taylor informed me he researched some old pictures from around the year 1884 where he found some postmortem pictures of people fully dressed and posed upright with family members. They positioned the bodies in an upright position with wires, braces, stands, etc. In the case of children, the parents might sit on either side and hold them upright. These may be the only photo the family had of the deceased. The cost of photos probably prevented earlier pictures of the living family. Furthermore, the funeral might have been the only opportunity where all the family came together at the same time and place.
Dave referred to some of the pictures showing small children and babies. One 1870s photo he found was taken of a young female nine days after death! He said the body was posed upright with the eyes open. The hand writing in the margins told a sad story. It read, “Mother would not let go of her only daughter.” He found this photo on several sites by simply searching for ‘Jeanette Glackmeyer.’ He warns that you can read the writing in the margins on some sites but not on others. He suspects the deceased were kept for a time in colder climates until they could dig through the frozen ground, a practice much different from our custom today, especially here. Dave confirms his suspicions by using the death and burial of our first President as an example.
“President George Washington is an example of someone who was parlored for a considerable length of time after death in the home during the wintertime.”
Dated photos benefits the genealogist for it brings the family together in one place at a specific time, an event, which probably would never have happened otherwise. You can target an ancestor by searching for photos during their lifetime and in their death year. Such a search may be time consuming but the benefits of the search might unlock a long sought after mystery.
For more on this subject, search ‘Victorian era postmortem photography,’ see also ‘memento mori.’ These photos mainly appeared after the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 to remember the deceased. These were more common in Europe than in the United States. Nevertheless, I have pictures of relatives in my photo collection. How about you?
Thank you, Dave, for sending me this information for my readers.
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Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.