Saturday, March 8, 2014

On The Book Shelf...

Over the last three months, I have acquired two books dealing with a topic that is perhaps somewhat uncomfortable for many... death. While these books may deal with aspects of death such as the customs surround the inevitable event, as a genealogist, my interest in the subject as grown likely due to the time that I spend in cemeteries. From outside, looking in, we can learn much from cemeteries as they relate to the quest in our family history. Headstones can provide vital information such as dates of birth and death, but many more in recent decades provide date of marriage. However be warned: the data on headstones can be incorrect as it is often provided to the headstone company by the family and they may have provided the incorrect date of birth for your great-grandmother.

So as I explored cemeteries from Ireland to New Mexico, from Germany to Cuba, I found it very interesting how different cultures buried and memorialised their dead. While there is not a large collection on the subject, I was able to add to my own collection two new additions:

Corpses, Coffins and Crypts: A History of Burial by Penny Colman (1997, Henry Holt and Company) was written with a target audience of young adults. Eight chapters voyage through subjects on dealing with death, cremations, cemeteries and what happens to corpses. The book looks at aspects of death and dealing with dead by various cultures and throughout history. This book may be a good option for those of you looking for a little (not a lot) of insight into subject. Colman has crammed a fair amount of research in this 205 page book but avoids information overload.

The History of Death: Burial Customs and Funeral Rites, From the Ancient World to Modern Times by Michael Kerrigan (2007, The Lyons Press) may read more like a text book for those looking for an easy read on a difficult subject. And since it is formatted in such as way, the expectation may be a little higher. Therefore, I would have like to read more on the history of cemeteries, particularly those in North America.

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