How different obituaries used to be.....

alisandeFebruary 22, 2013

Following Ghoghunter's suggestion, I was looking to see if I could find old death notices in our county when I came this obituary from 1896. Our manner of expressing ourselves certainly has changed over the past 100+ years. Here's the beginning of the obituary.

Our Worthy Citizen Passes Away After a Weary Illness

Daniel K. Belknap died at his residence late Thursday afternoon, after a long and lingering illness,

The event had been hourly anticipated for some time. The reports in the Tribune from time to time had prepared his many friends in the community for the inevitable for several days past, as it was well known that his life was hanging by a thread. He has been wearing out for years.

Of a highly nervous organization, burdened with heavy responsibilities which his conscientious make-up would not allow him to slight in any way, he practically laid down his life upon the altar of duty. He met faithfully every obligation to his employers with energy, tact and discretion. His courtesy and spirit of accommodation with the patrons of the road kept them in the most cordial relations with that great corporation, and added to its popularity with the business community. His invariable cordiality and good sound common sense and energy fitted him well for his important duties.

If you'd like to read the whole thing (or others), go here.

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That formal type of language is a little labor intensive to read - it doesn't exactly "flow"!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 2:36PM
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LOL Yeah, you might say that.

And then there are the things we hope they never say about us. Like, "He has been wearing out for years." :-)

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 2:41PM
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IDK... I don't see 'formal', but I do see great grammar!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 2:44PM
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Sounds like the way they might have talked in that era--writing just as they would have talked about a friend. More common then now.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:40PM
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Some things do not change quickly over the years. We humans find it difficultto use direct language about the passing of a respected or loved one. For example, words like died and death seem too harsh, so other phrases are manufactured to convey the same idea. For example, phrases like "passed on", "gone to visit his maker", or eternal rest" are used in place of "died". In this case, a little salve on the wound seems appropriate although it may get in the way of concise meaning. This style of phrasology is seen in obituraries over the ages.

However, the design of gravestones have changed. Early US gravestones ca 1600 - 1700 were gristly. Many of these carried the image of a death mask and some were hideous alterations of a skull. These were meant to convey the awfulness of death and it scared youth and kept them from aimlessly roaming the graveyard perhaps to find mischief. As time passed, the death mask was softened. At some point, angel wings were added. Then came the image of a lamb or favorite pet to denote the passing of a child. By mid 1800, the death mask disappeared. In recent time, the design of the stone has changed again due to the grounds keeping needs. Today, a number of cemeteries require the grave marker to lie flush with the earth so that mowing equipment can pass unimpeded over the stone, or for the marker to sit on a protective pedastal. The pedastal is meant to absorb the gashes and scratches of motorized equipment while preserving the stone.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 12:48AM
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All very interesting. I have to agree that I don't think I'd want the obvious negative description of the end of my life in an obituary. Who isn't wearing out as we age?

I have mixed feelings about the mention that it had been noted news for days of this soon passing. On one hand, it seems grim that it was news for days, but on the other hand, at least people knew. I wasn't told about a friend's death because I didn't attend her church, and no one thought to call me until after all the services were over even though I was in her address book and had seen her and her family not too long before she passed. I think small communities had some benefits that brought people together that are lacking more today.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 1:50AM
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I loved the writing of those obits, Some of the more personal details could have been omitted , but that was then.
An era that we shall never see again...enjoyed it !!!Thanks Susan

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 7:50AM
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he'd been wearing out for years? i feel that way often, lol...

actually as part of of a college course my ds1 took, we visited one of several grave yards in out town..took pictures of the actually made the place less scarey...

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 8:39AM
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I love reading old obituaries!! There was so much detail about the person's life and family. I love genealogy and finding a good obit is like finding a treasure! Have you had any luck finding out more about the Bishop children? I did see the posting about the census. I belong to Ancestry and would be happy to search around there too. Maybe there is a church record of the births and deaths.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 12:27PM
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Check out Susannah Belknap's obit. "She was the relic of the late Horace Belknap". And Dulcy Belknap and Mary Frantz were both patient sufferers.

For some reason I find those obits rather endearing and written with heart.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 8:01PM
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Oh, I do, too, despite my chuckles. You get the feeling the writer knew the person, and cared.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2013 at 8:33PM
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My wife and I have made good use of obituaries when tracing our family trees. We find that we can extract more information and clues from the longer, chatty obituaries. Sometimes in opposition to a long obit, a family publishes a very short obit and wishes to hide family matters. About all you can get from these is the death date; sometimes the birth date is missing.

Often, it is difficult to determine hard data from a flowery written obit from 100 or more years ago. Go back 200 years and you can find unfamilar words, meanings, and useage. For example, what was a cordwainer? Two hundred years ago, he was a shoemaker, who included among his wares, fine leather shoes made from cordovian leather (leather made in Cordova, Spain).

We also have an early New England ancestor who was appointed "fence watcher".

I have ancestors who died of "consumption" and "milk sickness".

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 4:15AM
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Jemdandy..milk sickness is what killed Abraham Lincoln's mother. It was caused by the cattle eating white snakeroot. The plant poisoned the animals and the milk and then people also got sick and died from drinking the milk. Consumption is Tuberculosis

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 7:44AM
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Milk sickness sounds awful. I was reading the obits today and some people died "suddenly" and some died "tragically". All the people's whose deaths were described this was were young to die. Is "suddenly" a euphemism for suicide and "tragically" for an accident? I wonder.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:46PM
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Suddenly or tragically usually means heart attack, OD or MVA here.

This post was edited by LuAnn_in_PA on Mon, Feb 25, 13 at 11:08

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 11:07AM
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A long time back I think they looked for little tidbits to write about. My GG-Grandmother's condition was noted in the paper several days before her acutal death. For instance, one day it said . Abigial Fritch, mother of Elizabeth Godwin is laying very low with pneumonia. Then mentioned another daughter that was on her way there from out of town. I have an obituary of a Great Uncle that is almost unbelievable to read...I will see if I can find it and post it. It makes him sound like the most popular man on earth, I guess he was a very well thought of man in the community..

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 11:24AM
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Yes, about those old double-plank house had pieces of newspaper stuffed between the boards for insulation. We used to pull them out and try to read them. The newspaper would report people's trips, new horses acquired, and illnesses, including minor ones. In fact, our local papers still do that. They hire (for about 5 bucks a pop) local people to report goings-on in the villages.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 11:40AM
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I've noticed that obituaries were getting a bit more personal than usual lately, at least in the Scranton newspaper. I'm not sure if they got a new obituary writer or what but I've read some really beautiful ones recently. I like to see something other than the facts - I don't need to know how they died but it's nice to know how they lived.

This is a link to today's obituaries. Some of them are pretty standard but the others have a bit of flare. I wish I could find one of the outstanding ones right now.

Here is a link that might be useful: Obits

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 11:54AM
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The length of an obituary may be influenced by the newspaper's pricing policy. A local newsheet may charge a fixed price for a well known local whereas a large city paper may charge by the word. I believe that my newspaper charges the same as for personal ads.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 6:47PM
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