Thursday, August 7, 2014

Invited to the Funeral

Priceless Family History in Kentucky Funeral Invitations
By Jean M. Hoffman, CGSM

For some families no early Kentucky death records exist in the usual sources of probate, family Bibles, church records, and cemetery inscriptions. A quite different source was a surprise. My Eckles family is well represented in a book I found of transcribed funeral invitations. Some of the information is present nowhere else. Family members also appear in three other published collections of funeral invitations primarily from Lexington and Georgetown in north central Kentucky.

Funeral invitations, some quite elaborate, were in use by the 17th-century in England, some reportedly collected by Samuel Pepys. Kentucky invitations began with simple designs, the earliest in the collections from 1802.[1] They informed friends and neighbors of a death and served as invitations to the funerals. Often held a day after death, funerals could not be announced in the newspapers, as many were weeklies. Modern death notices and funeral cards are widely saved and so were the funeral invitations. Some can be seen as ephemera in online sales, at Pinterest, and in manuscript archives.[2]
Example: Funeral invitation, Broadsides and Ephemera Collection, Duke University Libraries Digital Collections
Marie Dickoré transcribed and annotated a collection but did not reveal the location of the originals. Her book includes funeral invitations for members of the family of Charles Eckles, wagonmaker of Georgetown, Scott County, Kentucky.[3] Three are attributed to his first three wives. An elaborate invitation to the funeral of Mrs. Nancy Eckles on 27 April 1839 is noted as being for his first wife, who was Nancy (Boyd) Eckles, but she died before 27 January 1830.[4] Both the first wife and the mother of Charles Eckles were called Nancy and it is undoubtedly his mother who died in 1839. The funeral invitation of Mrs. Ann Eckles for 16 December 1843 revealed a name previously unknown. She is annotated as the second wife of Charles. A newspaper notice of a death that must be hers referred to her as Nancy as well.[5] My cousin has originals of a few of the notices in this collection, the earliest for Charles Eckles in 1867.[6]

Huckster Cyrus Parker Jones collected funeral notices in Lexington for many years. He bequeathed them to James M. Duff, a library trustee who presented the collection to the Lexington Public Library in 1900.[7] Among these funeral invitations is one from 1829 for Eleanora, a daughter of Susan (Eckles) Coffman, though only the father, Philip, was named.[8] One for a Mrs. Jane Huston in 1818 might be for the Jane Eckles who married James Huston in 1807 but that awaits further research. Susan and Jane are sisters of Charles Eckles.

An important find was an index entry for an Alexander Eckles in Kentucky Ancestors.[9] His 15 December1823 funeral was held at the home of his mother.[10] The city is not mentioned but many invitations in this indexed collection are from Georgetown. Tax records help confirm this as the Alexander Eckles of Georgetown. He paid Scott County tax from 1816 through 1823; the 1824 books are missing; and in 1825 Nancy Eckles, his mother, began to pay tax on town lots.[11] Alexander is a brother of Charles Eckles.

John M’Calla kept a scrapbook of Lexington funeral invitations until he moved away. Some duplicate the other Lexington collection but many are for additional people. Alexander Adams is one of the new names with an invitation to his 1805 funeral in Lexington.[12] The father of Nancy (Adams) Eckles, he also had a death notice in the Kentucky Gazette.[13]

The information from these slips of paper helped reassemble the Eckles family of Fayette County and Georgetown. Their few probate records are sketchy, a cemetery not located, no family Bible found, and their Georgetown Presbyterian Church was not formed until 1828.[14] I’m even told the first record book of the church is missing.[15] The funeral invitations in these four Kentucky collections have proven extremely valuable in family research.

Note: the images are taken from larger sheets. Reproduction of images from the library website are not allowed.

CG is a Service Mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluations by the Board.

    1.    James D. Birchfield, editor, A Collection of Lexington, Kentucky, Funeral Invitations (1802-1846); collected by John Moore M’Calla (Lexington, Ky.: Special Collections & Archives, University of Kentucky Libraries, 1999). [Includes transcriptions, in chronological order, of 430 funeral invitation cards and facsimiles of 24.]
    2.    For a sale see: 1898 Port Providence Pennsylvania Funeral Invitation, David w Fronefield; eBay  ( : accessed 30 July 2014). For Pinterest see: Vintage Funerals; Pinterest  ( : accessed 30 July 2014). For achives see: funeral invitation, Mrs. Ann E. Robinson, 1837, ID bdsv023193; Broadsides and Ephemera Collection, Duke University Libraries Digital Collections ( : accessed 30 July 2014).
    3.    Marie Dickoré, compiler, Copies of Names on Invitations to Funerals and Burials In Scott County and Fayette County, Kentucky, 1821 - 1898: Including Names of Deceased, Family Connections, Ministers, Church, Cemetery, Pallbearers, as They Occur on the “Invitations” (Cincinnati, Ohio: Marie Dickoré, 1942).
    4.    Guardian report from Charles Eckles in Will Book, E, part 2: 161 (this volume contains records reentered after the 1837 courthouse fire, done as best as they could be), Scott County Clerk, Georgetown, KY. Distribution of John Boyd estate to his granddaughters when his will named his then-unmarried daughter indicates the daughter is deceased.
     5.    DIED (Mrs. Nancy Eccles), The Protestant and Herald, Kentucky, 22 February 1844; - Historic Newspapers Online, digital images ( : accessed 28 March 2011.)
     6.    Collection of J.T.N. inherited from his grandmother, photographed by the author.
         7.    Linda Ramsey Ashley and Elizabeth Tapp Wills, Funeral Notices: Lexington, Ky., 1806-1887 (Rochester, Mich.: L. Ashley, 1982). Digitized and available online through the Lexington Public Library , Funeral Notices Collection:
    8.    James M. Duff, compiler, Duffs Funeral Notices Scrap Book, 1806-1887 (Lexington, KY: Lexington Public Library, 2002), Eleanora, daughter of Philip Coffman card; digital images Kentuckiana Digital Library ( : accessed 27 March 2011).
    9.    Jonathon Jeffrey, “Final Summons: Funeral Cards in the Kentucky Library of Western Kentucky University,” Kentucky Ancestors 37:74 (2001).
   10.    Alexander Eckles funeral invitation, 1823; Funeral Ephemera F526, Kentucky Library & Museum, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY; photocopy in files of the author.
   11.    Scott County, Kentucky; Manuscript Tax Lists, Kentucky State Historical Society, Frankfort; FHL microfilm 8,221; Alexander Eckles entries: 1816 Tax List, p. 20; 1817, p.11, Capt. Tilford; no 1818 Tax List; FHL microfilm 8,222; Alexander Eckles entries: 1819, p. 22; 1820; 1821, p. 24; 1822; 1823; no 1824 Tax List; Nancy Eckles entry, 1825.
   12.    Birchfield, A Collection of Lexington, Kentucky, Funeral Invitations (1802-1846), 17.
   13.    Died (Alexander Adams), Kentucky Gazette and General Advertiser, Lexington, Ky., 15 January 1805, p. 3, col. 1; Kentuckiana Digital Library, digital images ( accessed 2 September 2011).
   14.    Ann Bolton Bevins and J. Robert Snyder, editors, Scott County Church Histories: A Collection (Georgetown, Ky.: Scott County Bicentennial Committee, 1979), 57.
   15.    Pers. comm. from former church Sessions R.R.S., 1 September 2011.