Who Buried the Undertaker?

We start today’s story with the birthday of Margaretha Grosse on August 5, 1860 in Friedland, Missouri, also called The Ridge.  She was the daughter of Carl and Emilie (Gebner) Weber and was baptized at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altenburg.  When Margaretha was 22 years old, she married Gustav Gross of Frohna in 1883.  Gustav was a farmer, and this couple lived just a little north of Frohna.  Here is an image of a 1915 land map showing the location of his farm.

 

Gustav Grosse land map Frohna
Gustav Grosse – land map 1915

I am going to use this birthday and this marriage as a springboard to discuss a more general topic today.  The topic will be funerals and how they were conducted historically in Perry County.  For a while now, I have seen the name of Gustav Grosse (or Grosze) show up on forms that have nothing to do with his farming occupation.  His name has shown up on several death certificates that I have seen during the course of my research for these blog posts.  He often shows up as an undertaker.

Here is a death certificate from 1911 that shows Gustav as the undertaker.

Gustav Grosse undertaker 1911

The latest one I was able to find which showed Gustav as undertaker was one that was filed in 1920.

Gustav Grosse undertaker 1920

At about the same time, we see another name showing up on these certificates as undertaker in Altenburg.  His name was August Preusser.

August Preusser undertaker 1918

In the 1920 census, August Preusser shows his occupation as a church sexton.  In past times, sextons were men who maintained church property, including cemeteries, and dug graves.

In a previous post titled, Undertaking a Furniture Business, it was pointed out that once upon a time, undertakers were often also woodworkers or carpenters because one of their primary tasks was to build coffins.  It is my guess that both Gustav Grosse and August Preusser may have also been in the business of constructing coffins.  Another story which has been written about a furniture maker who made coffins was Often in a Coffin.

At this point, let me point out some things that I have read or heard about concerning funerals in the days before modern communication and transportation.  I have to say that I am not sure all of these characteristics were common in East Perry County.

  • Gustav Grosse mostly shows up on death certificates for people who were members of Immanuel Lutheran Church, especially those from The Ridge.  August Preusser shows up on death certificates of people primarily from Trinity Lutheran Church.  It appears that each church in East Perry County had an undertaker who mostly worked with a particular church, the church at which they were a member.
  • People were generally “laid out” in their own homes in those days.  A home’s parlor was used for such places, and people came to those homes to pay their respects.  In many cases, the pastor would come to the home and perform the funeral service.  It was not always held at the church.
  • Undertakers were also helpful in providing not only the coffin, but also transportation for the body to the cemetery.  Horse-drawn hearses were used by the grieving family for this purpose.
  • There is a difference between a coffin and a casket.  A coffin is a six-sided box which allows more space for the shoulders of the corpse and not as much for the legs.  As casket is a simple rectangle.
coffin
Coffin
  • When a person died, the family would have small cards printed which told about the funeral arrangements and placed those cards in local businesses in order for the community to be informed.  To a certain extent, this is a practice which still takes place to this day in the Altenburg/Frohna area.

This all leads to an important development which took place in Perry County n 1918.  It was not long after 1918 that we no longer see the names of Gustav Grosse or August Preusser on death certificates.  Instead, we see the name of Edward Jung, like this one from 1921.

Edward Jung undertaker 1921

Later, we see that name changed to Edward Young like you see on this form from 1927.

Edward Young undertaker 1927

It was in 1918 that a young barber named Edward Jung decided to change occupations.  He and his wife Adelheit (Palisch) Jung started a funeral home in Perryville, Missouri.  Adelheit was a native of Frohna, Missouri.  Here is a photo of this couple.

Edward and Adelheit Young

During this era, a change in terminology entered the world of providing services for people preparing for funerals.  Embalming of bodies became a more common practice, and instead of having a variety of people providing different services, such as grave digging and  providing a coffin,  a whole business centered around the idea that one place could be the source of all these services.  A building called a funeral home became a place where bodies were laid out for viewing at the time of a person’s death.  It was the end of the undertaker and the beginning of the funeral director.  In Missouri, as far as I can determine, the official change on certificates of death occurred between the years 1937 and 1938.  On 1937 certificates of death, it had a box for undertaker.  It just so happens that August Preusser died in 1937.  Here is his death certificate with a space for “undertaker”.

August Preusser death certificate
August Preusser – death certificate

Then in 1938, there was a place for “funeral director”.  In fact, it was that very year that we find the death certificate for Gustav Grosse.

Gustav Grosse death certificate
Gustav Grosse – death certificate

In the bottom left of both of those forms, you see that the space for undertaker or funeral director is filled in as Young & Son in 1937, and Young & Sons in 1938.  Edward had expanded his business to include a few sons by this time.  This business continues to this day.

Young and Sons Funeral Home

In fact, they have a satellite location in Altenburg at which viewings are made possible for local residents.  This keeps these folks from having to drive to Perryville for the viewing of a loved one at the time of their death.

Young and Sons Funeral Home Altenburg

 

I think there were two developments that were factors in the increased use of funeral homes.  First was the invention of the telephone.  The telephone enabled easier communication with people who were further away from each other, making funeral arrangements easier to facilitate.  Secondly, the rise of the use of automobiles contributed to funeral homes being able to serve large areas.  As a result, a funeral business such as Young & Sons could more easily provide services for people all around Perry County from their location in Perryville.

So we get back to the original question.  Who buried the undertaker?  Well, at least for two of them from East Perry County, we know that he was a Young man.

 

 


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