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Morbid Curiosities

2014-054 WHS Casket

2014-054 WHS – Image of a man kneeling in front of a casket

Ok, I will admit it – I have a fascination with death. Perhaps, it is a hazard of being a genealogist and local history librarian, but I think that it comes from a deep and visceral level. We all die. It’s a fate that we cannot escape. The myriad of rituals and beliefs tied up with death and dying makes the obsession that much more intriguing.

I am a regular obituary reader. Daily, I’ll scan over the obituaries online to see if I recognize a name, a face or family. While I may not personally know the departed, I often recognize distant and former neighbours, co-workers, or casual acquaintances. As I grow older, the recognition of names, sadly, becomes more frequent.

Funerals are another curiosity of mine. The ceremony, rituals, beliefs and practices of death and its commemoration are fascinating – especially when seen over time. And I’ve always wondered about the special breed of people that choose or find themselves in this field of work.

Marion Roes knows much about funeral home history in Waterloo Region. Her family founded the Dreisinger Funeral Home in Elmira. Come join me on Monday November 16th @ 7pm at Country Hills Community Library, 1500 Block Line Road, Kitchener to hear Marion’s updated talk on funeral home history in Kitchener. She is sharing her vast knowledge and research on local funeral homes, particularly that of Schreiter-Sandrock, the oldest in our area. I’m told, that she has lots of new images to share, too.

The Country Hills branch is attached to St. Mary’s High School  (see map). The library is on the end of the complex closest to Homer Watson. There’s lots of free parking and no registration is required for the event.

Do you have a favourite Waterloo County funeral in your family history?

Cheers, Karen

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Guest Posts

Funerals, Furniture and Finds

George Rosenblatt

Studio portrait of George Rosenblatt of St. Clements. Used with permission of owner.

I am pleased to welcome Waterloo Historical Society Past-President, Marion Roes, as a guest blogger to Historically Speaking. Marion’s particular passion is the study of local undertakers.  She is the recipient of the 2014 Edna Staebler Research Fellowship at the Joseph Schneider Haus. Marion will be presenting her research findings at Schneider Haus in February 2015 during Heritage Week. I am honoured to call her a friend and colleague. Although most of our conversations end up talking about death for some strange reason…

Cheers, Karen.

Researching Waterloo Region funeral businesses and practices for the Edna Staebler Research Fellowship has led me to an unexpected business in St. Clements.  I discovered that George Rosenblatt, a furniture maker in St. Clements, was licensed by the Board of Funeral Services, Toronto, from 1914 to 1923. Nancy Maitland, archivist for the Wellesley Township Heritage and Historical Society, pointed me to photos and a contact for a Rosenblatt descendent.  Through the family member, I learned that the Rosenblatt Furniture Factory, later named Rosenblatt Artworks, was started with George’s father, John, about 1864. The business operated until 1932, when it burned down.

As the Rosenblatt records had been donated to the Grace Schmidt Room, I eagerly awaited the return of the archival collection.  Among the many photos, an Artworks catalogue, correspondence and orders in the Rosenblatt archives, I came across a 1917 Income Tax Return giving George’s occupation as “Wooden Artwork and Undertaking.” That one-line mention of George in the records has grown to several paragraphs in my research report.  If my research focus was broader than just undertaking, I could write a mini-history about a company in the rural village of St. Clements which shipped its manufactured products across Canada – and to the nearby St. Clement Roman Catholic Church.

Why did George Rosenblatt have a license? Perhaps, it was because the nearest funeral businesses in the early 1900s were in Waterloo, Elmira, Wellesley and Linwood. He did make coffins but a license wasn’t needed to do that. While I may not get all the answers that I’m seeking, I’ve been finding lots of information about local funeral businesses and practices – in the GSR, City of Cambridge Archives, Wellesley, Waterloo Region Museum Curatorial Centre, interviews and from helpful colleagues.  There just might be enough for a book!

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