Funeral Traditions of Your Ancestors

funeral-widowWhen trying to better understand your ancestors’ lives and events that affected them, one aspect that needs to be covered are the times when an ancestor attended a friend’s or family member’s funeral. These were once common practice and many have been dropped over the decades.

Here are a few of the traditional funeral practices:

Putting flowers on a grave site is still done and even dates back to ancient Greece time frame. In some areas besides flowers, very strong herbs such as evergreen and rosemary were placed because of their strong odor to mask the smell from a dead body.

A practice of placing coins – one each on each eye of the deceased is not longer done. it also dated back to ancient Greece. The purpose was to ensure the eyelids stayed closed and provide payment as the soul went into the afterlife.

A tradition of many centuries was for the eldest male or son in a family to inhale the last breath of a family member about to pass away.

funeral-pallbearsThe wearing of gloves during a funeral and especially at the grave site was a long standing tradition. The deceased’s family would even purchase extra gloves to hand out to anyone not having a pair of gloves. If the deceased was a young person, white gloves were worn and an older person then black gloves.

There were many ‘safety coffins’ used, a precaution against a person being buried alive. A string inside the coffin was attached to a bell to outside the grave (above ground). If the person was truly alive they would pull the string and sound the bell.

Generally, all visitations and services were held in the deceased’s home parlor or another family member’s parlor at their home. that usually was followed by a church service then burial in a cemetery usually on the family’s property.

The wearing of black clothing by a widow, widower and event the children of the deceased was very common, usually for a year.

funeral-hairKeeping locks of the deceased’s hair and placing it into a special case with a photo or painting of the deceased was very common in the 19th century. Also using a good deal of the hair to create ‘mourning jewelry’ or a large woven design using just the hair, large enough to be framed and hung on the wall.

Photos: A widow, the funeral pallbearers and hair in a locket.

Related Blogs:

Look Beyond the OBIT

A Family Memorial Album

Sources of Death Records


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