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Burying the Dead: Family Traditions

Throughout time, it is a known fact that the dead have been laid to rest and interred in many different ways. The way people said goodbye to their loved ones is quite telling of the time they lived in, their historical period, and the leading views on death and the spirit of an individual leaving the earth. In this article, you will encounter the various attitudes towards burying the dead, including family plots.  

Graveyards and Family Traditions

During the early 19th century, graveyards were a popular way of burying the dead, which dated back to the days of antiquity. In the 19th century, graveyards were often situated in the middle of town, such as a square that everyone frequented or in a churchyard. It was commonplace to find the graveyard overgrown with weeds, as there was no one to take care of the premises. Coffins would crowd the small spaces and people living in town weren’t particularly caring for the grounds.

In the past, it was also a tradition for a family to have their own private graveyard. It was a family’s responsible (and not the community or state) to bury their dead relatives. This also followed in line with the belief that the connection between bloodlines did not disappear once someone was no longer among the living. To this day, people still purchase mausoleums and family plots so that the remains of relatives are still kept close to one another.

Ancient times saw families fiercely protecting their private graveyards. Clans never let the body of a stranger lie in the same plot as relatives. Even as time passed and the family gave up their burial obligations to the community, burying a body in a communal graveyard was still a practice that people heavily guarded. Strangers could come and go in a town, but as soon as they died, they were not allowed to be interred in the same place as members of the community that have lived there on a permanent basis.

Separation Even in Death

When it came time to bury the dead, our ancestors also segregated plots based on standards of ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable.’ Special cemeteries were created to accommodate different groups of people, such as Jews, Christians, the rich, the unwealthy, and even criminals.

Convicted witches, murderers, and people who committed suicide were not allowed burial in what was considered the best graveyards in town. This practice is still somewhat adhered to. For example, when a notorious criminal is buried in a public or private cemetery, the site is typically kept unpublicized. Not only does this act cut down on vandalism, but also calms the objections of people who lie in adjacent plots.