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Farewell   Sickness and Death in the Old South

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At the graveside of Claude Smoot, 
Warren County Tennessee, 1936. Photograph provided by Angela Mayfield
At the graveside of Claude Smoot, Warren County, Tennessee, 1936.
Photograph provided by Angela Mayfield
     “...THIN dark trees through yon iron palings where dead keep their own small metropolis. Curious marble architecture, stele and obelisk and cross and rainworn stones where names grow dim with years. Earth packed samples of the casketmaker's trade, the dusty bones and rotted silk, the deathwear stained with carrion...”
       -- From Suttree by Cormac McCarthy, 1992

     “...PEOPLE took funerals seriously in those days. Not death: death was our constant familiar: no family but whose annals were dotted with headstones whose memorialees had been too brief in tenure to bear a name even--unless of course the mother slept there too in that one grave, which happened more often than you would like to think. Not to mention the husbands and uncles and aunts in the twenties and thirties and forties, and the grandparents and childless great-uncles and -aunts who died at home then, in the same rooms and beds they were born in, instead of in cubicled euphemisms with names pertaining to sunset. But the funerals, the ritual ceremonial of interment, with tenuous yet steel-strong threads capable of extending even further and bearing even more weight than the distance between Jefferson and the Gulf of Mexico...”
       -- From The Reivers by William Faulkner, 1962

     WHEN a genealogist advances beyond the mere collection of dates, questions arise like: how did our ancestors live, and of course, how did they die? The purpose of this project is look at our southern ancestors of the nineteenth century, understand how they dealt with death, and to help us realize that all through their lives, death was with them.

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