Mourning Jewelry and Others

mourning ringIn the last half of the 19th century, our ancestors then practiced a popular method of remembering the departed relatives and in a way forever keeping them with the living. It was the custom for decades to have some form of mourning jewelry or art form. In the 21st century it might be a bit morbid, but for our ancestors it was very important to them.

It really began after the death of Albert, Prince Consort (husband) to the English Queen Victoria in 1861, which effectively brought mourning into popular fashion, as the monarch threw herself into perpetual mourning for Albert. At the same time was the American Civil War, where thousands of soldiers – North and South, died in battle or due to disease, never to return home. Many times the soldier’s body was returned for burial back home, making the need for some type of personal item to remember the deceased.  mourning-cufflinks

Sentimentality through the act of capturing the memory of a loved one inside a keepsake was attainable at a cost that had not been seen in early-modern history. Photos had become popular, so by wearing a piece of jewelry, especially rings and brooches, with a photo of the relative became very important to the living. Lower production costs, base metals and machinery had been perfected since the late 18th century in order to make a style of jewel that could adapt rapidly to fashion or technology.

Other areas using photographs to remember those who had died were the post-mortem photos. This was done especially of children, made to look like they were asleep and if no recent photos had yet been done of the child. All photos taken before the body was buried.

mourning-broochOne of the most popular personal items used by the living was locks of hair of the deceased. A group of skilled artists were able to use those locks of hair to create a form of art, either as a framed wall hanging or encased in a brooch to wear. This type of jewelry was not just for ladies, males would have had cuff links, watch fob, tie pin, etc made with the decease’s initials or other symbol, all made from hair then encased.

The hair, if enough, could be styled into a wreath of lovely flowers. It does sound amazing, but many people became very skilled in creating art designs solely using hair. By fashioning something using a loved ones’ hair it helped the family ensure that a part of the deceased would live on for decades. Such jewelry and art work was handled down through the generations. mourning-art-flowers

Another art form was needlework, a sampler, done by a female family member who wrote about the deceased, maybe in the form of a poem.

Since these items have been handed over the decades, you should check to see if any exist with a relative, packed away in a truck.

Photos: Mourning ring, men’s cuff links, lady’s brooch and a wall hanging of flowers made of hair.

Related genealogy blogs:

Terms for Illnesses

Victorian Photos

Photo Types of the Late 1800s

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