History of U. S. Traditions
for their own dead. They prepared, dressedand displayed their loved ones within
the confines of their own home. Early American houses often did not have
parlors, however as houses grew, and national mannerisms became more set,
proper families made sure they had front rooms filled with their finest possessions,
quality furniture, portraits, sterling silver and often a piano. Because these rooms
were usually clean, closed off, and quite formal, people often used them when
someone died as a place to lay out the body and allow funeral visits. The body
was usually displayed in a casket that was made or even purchased at the General
North American Funerals
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History of Funerals in the U.S.
In early America, home funerals were the
practice everywhere, and each community
had a group of women who came in to
help with the "laying out of the dead."
Visitation was held in the front parlor
followed by a procession to the church and

Until the mid 1800’s most families cared
Since home parlors, have been largely replaced by funeral homes, the formal front
room, or parlor has been turned into the modern family living room.

Caring for your own dead began to change dramatically during the Civil War.
Soldiers were dying on the battlefield, and their families would want them sent
home for burial. This is when the practice of embalming, for shipping bodies over
a long distance, first began to take place. Dr. Auguste Renouard (1839-1912), a
U.S. Physician, was one of the early leaders in the field, laying the groundwork
for present day embalming methods.

During this time period, the family graveyard was moving towards the more park
like settings of the local cemetery. Also, the United States, established a number of
national military cemeteries, where members of the armed forces were and
continue to be buried.

Soon after came the Undertakers, who undertook this duty for the families at a
time of need. It was not long before this became the normal way for families to
take care of their dead.

Over time, Undertakers become known as Morticians and Funeral Directors. In
the beginning of the 1900's, the newly formed National Funeral Directors
Association was pressing its members to consider themselves "professionals," not
tradesmen as the earlier coffin-makers had been. Regular use of embalming was
encouraged, and the new "professionals" used it to suggest they were keepers of
the public health.

(see: Mortuary History)
Most grander homes of the 19th
century had a false, or "death door"
placed off of the formal room, that led
to the outside without steps to remove
a deceased family member. It was
considered improper to remove a body
through the door, the living crossed to
enter, also, it was considered bad form
to carry them out feet first. Later a
grave was dug, in the family cemetery.
Funeral in the Home Parlor
(courtesy of Natl. Museum of Funeral History)
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