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Hand-delivered funeral cards once popular

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By Linda Hanabarger

“The friends and acquaintances of the family are invited to attend…a funeral…”
In the days before mass communication through radio, newspapers and telephone, hand-delivered funeral cards notified people of a death and upcoming funeral.
These cards were printed at the local print shop, and styles varied throughout the years. In the early days, the language was flowery; later it became stark and to the point.
“Yourself and family are respectfully invited to attend,” was the common form in 1836, “solicited” was substituted for invited in 1852, and “requested” in 1854. A wife was referred to as “consort,” a widow was a “relict,” and the wake and funeral were held in the home.
A cut representing a woman leaning over a monument beneath a weeping willow tree, with a church steeple in the background, adorns the early funeral notices. Later, an inverted black border at top and bottom of the small notice indicated the seriousness of the message.
There were the days when people went calling, leaving their card on a salver in the entry hall. This social practice extended into the early 1920s.
For local genealogists and researchers,  funeral cards are a real treat. Illinois death records begin 1877, and unless an estate was opened for the deceased, or a headstone set in one of the 200-plus county cemeteries, it can be very difficult to determine a death date.
Fayette County is "newspaper poor" because copies of our local newspapers were not preserved until 1893. Copies of The Vandalia Union are on microfilm in Evans Public Library, and are available to the public for research.
I purchased my collection of funeral cards and notices at the Vandalia auction of Sonny Doehring’s antique shop. A slip of paper with the 96 cards told that the collection had first been saved by Louis Shutz, and then by Harold and Helen Brooks. Dates ranged from 1876 to 1926.
The funeral card for Mrs. Christina Gloede, who died at her residence on Monday, Oct. 11, 1905, aged 76 years, nine months and 25 days, also contains an error in that it has the funeral scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 11, at 10 a.m.
William H. Guy died at his home on April 16, 1914, at the age of 78, was also a Civil War veteran. His funeral card tells us this, with the participation of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) in the funeral services.
The deaths of Helen and Walter, young children of Daniel Burtschi, who died within 24 hours of each other in February 1920, suggest that they were victims of a contagious disease – or even the flu epidemic that killed five million people worldwide.
The Fayette County Museum has a collection of funeral cards, ranging in years from 1836 to 1913, that represent a “Who’s Who” of old Vandalia families, including Dieckmann, Capps, Blackwell, Ernst, Todd and Leidig.
 

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