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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Postmortem Images
Posted by Maureen

Remember how last week I mentioned that this column would feature a "viewer discretion advised" image? The sight of a deceased person in a photo is the reason for the warning.

Like it or not, our ancestors began photographing the dead members of their family in the early 1840s. If you think you'll find such an image disturbing or unsettling, please don't continue reading. 

Theresa Klepadlo-Berio submitted this photo with the following e-mail message: "I have had this photograph for years and have always wondered it it's an actual funeral or what...All I know is that it was in an old photo album of my grandparents' and they were from Poland."

terri082508weird.jpg

It is in fact a funeral. The elderly woman in the casket is being photographed before her burial. The people surrounding her are probably family members. This picture is a key to her family history in Poland, and a a great example of how one photograph can help you connect with your heritage.

I spent a bit of time fixing the contrast and adjusting the sharpness of this image using my favorite photo editing tool—Picnik. (It's free!) Once I improved the picture the markings on the side of the coffin jumped out at me.

terri082508weird2.jpg

The words are still very difficult to read, but I took a chance and entered what I thought I saw into Google. Eureka! The words are spoczywaj w pokoju pax.

On the Pennsylvania USGenWeb Tombstone Transcription Project Web site was a translation: "Rest in Peace." A closeup of the woman's hands isn't clear enough for reproduction here, but she's holding a cloth and either a book or a photograph.

I immediately called Terri and asked her more about her family. Turns out there's a family tradition of photographing the dead! This is the only postmortem picture in her collection, but as we chatted she mentioned that her father's family used to pose relatives around the deceased. That suggests that this image here contains at least a few relatives. But who?

That's something I hope to write more about in the near future. Terri's going to send me some information on her family history. With any luck we'll be able to figure out who's who and when this was taken.

This image is also a good example of how the picture is just one piece of the family puzzle. Forensic research is needed to put the whole story together. More later...

In a related piece of news, a story this month in the Ventura County Star focused on one photographer's fine art pictures of parents with their deceased infants. Historically, mothers have long posed for a final picture with their deceased infants. The imges are usually heartbreaking and really upsetting to view. However, photographer Leila Jones' work at the Simi Valley Hospital transcends the grief.  She does an amazing job of capturing these last moments.


photo news | Photos from abroad
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 3:18:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [4]