1800s-Victorian Behaviors

True Victorians were in England between 1840s to 1905. However, many of the Victorian etiquette and moral practices, styles and dress were practiced in other parts of the world since England held so many colonies in other lands during the 19th century. The influence was very strong in the United States and Victorian era customs and behaviors became standard for American society for decades. The following are just a few examples of your ancestor’s behaviors in the 1800s. Such information is good to add to your family history.


Victorian adults enjoyed dressing up in costumes to entertain their friends at social gatherings. If someone was reciting poetry with a nature theme, the individual might dress as a gnome or a fairy.

Freaks of nature were enormously popular. The famous showman, P. T. Barnum, proved the popularity of human rarities and curiosities with his Siamese twins, General Tom Thumb, the Feejee Mermaid (a hoax) and Jumbo the Elephant. England loved their Elephant Man, who was Joseph Carey Merrick, with his distorted shaped body. Traveling freak shows were very fashionable across America and Europe from 1840s to 1910s, exhibiting deformed animals as well as people.


With photography becoming extremely popular, the Victorians took the process a step further. If a child or other relative just died, a photographer would be called in immediately to take a photo of the person after their death. Sometimes the eyelids were opened to make it appear the person was still alive. Other times the photo was of the person in their coffin. These were known as postmortem photos. Family members might also be in the photo. If a photographer could not be reached before the burial a previous photo of the relative might be especially superimposed on a family group photo, making it look like the deceased relative posed with the family. Re-examine those family vintage photos.

On a person’s deathbed, Victorians always hoped for some final words from the person. If something was uttered it was written down to be preserved for future generations. It was a way of remembering an individual. Along with their last words it was a popular practice to cut some of the person’s hair to have it then woven into a design to be placed in a watch, a locket or if enough even displayed in a large framed wall hanging. Also, hair woven jewelry made into brooches, earrings or brackets. See if you have any as heirlooms.

Accepted Victorian Customs

The English Victorians loved to eat animal brains and hearts. A favorite meal was made from turtle meat. Sitting down to a dinner of seven to eight courses in the evening was very common.

There was no social security, no welfare to assist those who were out of work or too old to work. The only thing available were the poorhouses. Unfortunately, those poorhouses would include the mentally ill. Children to the elderly might be living in close quarters for an extended period of time. Yet, it was very acceptable for many generations to live in one household – the grandparents-parents and children if it could be afforded.

Moral and Acceptable Behavior

Victorian etiquette had many restrictions, especially when it came to a moral code of behavior. Strict Victorians had a very prudish behavior and if one did not conform they were considered an outcast.

One major example applied to being right-handed vs left-handed. Social stigmas existed against left-handedness. Young children were forced to use their right hand only. Being left-handed would make a person appear odd or different and that was not tolerated in Victorian society.

Photos: Proper etiquette for men and ladies; Barnum’s Feejee Mermaid; Post-mortem photography -little girl on left looking like she was asleep; Hair woven jewelry and a Victorian Lady.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Victorian English Criminals

Misconceptions of Female Victorian Ancestors

1870s Photography

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