Within family treasures, genealogists often locate items that tell more about the individual they are researching. These include family bibles, old letters and old newspapers clippings. The quest is to obtain vital information such as dates and places of birth, marriage and death. What people collect, personally and about loved ones, can be instrumental in filling in the missing information.
Until well into the 20th century, obituaries as we know them today did not appear in newspapers unless the person was renown or had died an unusual death worth noting. Even so, you should continually check old newspapers for any announcement of a death, thank you notices from the family, notice of probate and news items of family visiting for a funeral.
In the mid 1800s people were notified of a funeral in a different manner than we know today. They were given or sent a funeral or memorial card. The person receiving the card was expected to attend the funeral. Announcements of funerals were also published as an advertisement in some newspapers.
These early funeral announcements normally contained information on the deceased, such as date of death and/or birth, age and where the funeral was to be held. In addition there may be an address for the deceased or the family. This is all very helpful information.
Funeral cards, also known as memorial cards or mourning cards, became popular during the Victorian era. Rather than inviting people to attend a funeral for the deceased, they were given to family and friends in remembrance of the deceased. Cards from that era will normally contain the vital statistics pertaining to the deceased, along with symbols and poems, sometimes a brief obituary and location and time of the funeral. Most of these were printed on card-stock.
When attending a funeral today, we are given a small, paper remembrance of the deceased. This normally contains the same type of information, in addition to names of pallbearers, people presenting the music and the name of the person officiating at the funeral. They sometimes contain a photograph of the deceased, a poem, brief obituary or symbols pertaining to the person. I live in ranch country. A popular item on funeral cards here is a windmill or cattle grazing on a hillside. If you did not own a ranch or work on a ranch, there would be no need for these symbols. Alone they are symbolic of the occupation of the deceased.
People are known to have collected funeral cards of their friends and family. I have seen them pasted into old books to be viewed from time to time. If you can find none for your ancestors and family, start asking relatives to look through their collections of family memorabilia. Once the quest begins there may be other items that will surface, such as photographs of the deceased and woven hair memorials.
Inquire at local museums and historical societies to determine if they have any collections of funeral cards for their area. Somebody's collection may have been donated. If you know where you ancestor died or was buried, inquire at funeral homes in that area. Not only will you learn where the funeral was held, but they may have the funeral or memorial card within their file. These add interest to your research, even if you have all the information printed on the card.
Unfortunately many of these funeral cards never survive within the family. Some end up in the trash can and others can be found in garage or estate sales or in boxes of collectables in antique stores. Fortunately for genealogists looking for these items, the editor of GenealogyToday.com is continually locating and preserving funeral cards. One of the largest databases of these can be found at Genealogy Today. Currently there are 21,600 names in that database. There are also some at various other web pages, such as Ancestors At Rest, http://www.ancestorsatrest.com/funeral_cards/.
Keep in mind that these tidbits of information, most likely kept by family and friends, may be the only clue you will find pertaining to an ancestor. Always remember and honor your ancestor as they were then.