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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]
Thursday, August 28, 2008 11:28:10 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Thank you, Maureen. I have lost two grandchildren, and only wish that photographers had been present... I'll be taking this article to local people to see whether we have such a program or if I can arouse an interest in starting one.. You've eased my grief a little.
Sandra C. Tye
Friday, August 29, 2008 3:43:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I have started to take pictures at some funerals. Only the ones were the family will not be offended. My 9 year old son recently took a picture at his grandfather's viewing. It is of his cousin sitting in front of the open casket. It is a really good photo and I was glad that they were both able to handle the funeral by taking a more perminent rememberance from it.
Lisa
Thursday, September 04, 2008 3:50:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I have a photo like this in a box of old photos that I inherited when my grandparents passed. I was shocked to say the least when I was flipping through the photos and came across a close-up of someone in a casket. There are no other people in the image, just a young man very nicely dressed in casket. I have no idea who the man is, the image is quite old. My family is also from Poland. Is this a custom of that region?
Stacy
Saturday, September 20, 2008 4:39:17 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Thank you!!! so much for sharing the article.. I was really touched when I googled my name and came across my name mentioned. It is through understanding and people such as you that help as spread the services that Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Offers.

www.nilmdts.org

Thank you again and please our volunteer services are here and available for anyone suffering the loss of a child.
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