[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee discusses the history and importance of funeral cards for genealogy research and shows ways to share the digitized images with family members and the public.]
One of the more precious discoveries that I’ve come across when cleaning out a loved one’s home after they’ve passed away is an envelope of interesting “cards” which were given out by a funeral home or mortuary.
Measuring about 2.5 inches wide and up to 4.5 inches long, one side would have a colorful, yet peaceful image of a religious symbol or figure or even a landscape. The other side of the card would contain details about the deceased and sometimes even a photo.
Known as “memorial cards” or “funeral cards,” many of us are sitting on just such a collection—and often wondering how we can incorporate these mementos into our family history research.
A Brief History of Funeral Cards
Color lithography became popular starting in the 1890s and this process allowed printed materials with vibrant graphics to be produced inexpensively and in mass quantities. A variety of advertisers began producing cards with different images on small pieces of card stock.
Funeral home directors discovered that creating memorial cards to be given away to family and friends of the deceased was a tasteful way of advertising their services. It also gave the mourners a way to remember the person who had passed on.
The cards were much more popular with Roman Catholics than Protestants, mainly due to the tradition of incorporating images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and a panoply of saints into daily worship. Non-Catholic funeral cards often had an image of the deceased or a landscape scene in place of religious iconography.
On the reverse would be printed the name of the decedent, birth and death dates and sometimes even more information, such as birth and death locations. In addition, a Bible verse, a prayer or a poem would also appear on the reserve as well.
How were these mementos used? I remember seeing them all over my great-grandmothers house—some were tucked in the corner of a dresser mirror, others had been laminated and were used as book marks and still others were mounted in a scrap book or photo album with black corners so they could be removed and cherished.
Scanning Funeral Cards
Funeral cards are a perfect item to scan using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner—and the process goes pretty quickly! Here are some tips and tricks I’ve discovered when scanning funeral cards:
- Use the highest possible resolution when scanning. This means 600dpi on the Flip-Pal mobile scanner. My thinking is that if I scan at a lower resolution, I might later need to “rescan” at the higher resolution if I don’t like the results.
- Scan more than one card if possible. In the example above, I was able to fit two cards on the Flip-Pal scanning glass. Once I’m finished scanning, I can use photo-editing software to split the single scan into two separate images. This saves time and makes the scanning process much quicker!
- Save a master digital image. This means making a digital copy of the scanned image and adding the word “master” to the file name. This file is never edited in any way that could change the resolution or quality of the image. I always work with the copy to make edits. This way if I make a mistake, I can always go back to the master image and start over.
Ways You Can Use Scanned Funeral Cards
Once you’ve scanned the funeral cards using the Flip-Pal mobile scanner, there are many uses for the digitized images:
- Create an online album. Use a program such as GooglePhotos, Picasa or even Facebook to upload the images and share them with family members. Or perhaps you just want a place to secure the digitized images as a backup. Use can use these same programs or a cloud storage site such as Dropbox.
There are even Pinterest boards dedicated to collections and types of funeral cards.
- Add them to your genealogy database. Many genealogy database programs such as FamilyTreeMaker.com or online sites such as WikiTree.com, allow you to upload digital images and associate them with someone in your research data.
- Build an online memorial. One way to remember a loved one is to incorporate the funeral card into an online memorial. Some funeral homes offer a virtual guest book as an option and may have already uploaded the image of the card. You can also write a blog post and add the image of the funeral card.
- Let them bring back memories. Use funeral cards the way our family members did: tuck them into mirror corners, place them in a small frame or a photo collage frame, or mount them in a scrapbook.
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Although funeral cards are a sad remembrance of someone’s passing, they are an important part of family history and should be preserved for future generations. Make sure they are stored using standard archival practices in a safe place, but also scan those funeral cards so you will always have a digital image as well.