“No charge for personal service.” James J. Merwin’s advertisement in the 1886 Windsor Herald newspaper promised satisfaction in all aspects of his services for undertaking and funeral arrangements. The first funeral director in Windsor, Merwin was known throughout the region for pioneering new methods and practices to advance his profession. After his death in 1902, his son George Merwin continued the business with his partner William S. Leek, maintaining its regional reputation for another forty years.
The Windsor Historical Society is fortunate to have three volumes of record books from the Merwin Funeral Home in its collection. These detail the services provided to Windsor area residents between 1877 and 1906. Library patrons regularly use the ledgers for research and the fragile bindings were showing signs of frequent handling. The three volumes have been digitally reproduced by the Bridgeport National Bindery, and the actual-size facsimile books are readily available to researchers in the Society library.
Funeral home records are an under-appreciated genealogical resource. The entries frequently confirm information in an ancestor’s death or cemetery record, or they might augment that information with details about the funeral and the family members involved.
When 35-year-old Mary Crowley died of diabetes in 1897, her father Timothy ordered an oak casket, 24 candles, eight pairs of gloves for the pallbearers, and 20 chairs. Merwin arranged for the use of a hearse and hired seven horse-drawn carriages to transport the mourners.
Entries for other funerals mention flowers, a sheaf of wheat, candelabras, opening the grave, and the renting of sleighs in the wintertime. Notations of the cause of death remind us yet again that we are the beneficiaries of significant advances in medicine and hygiene.
In 2007, Society volunteers transcribed some of the biographical information about the deceased individuals and summarized the details in an index, which is accessible through the Finding Aids section of our website. Volunteer Elaine Brophy found the Merwin Funeral Home records to be one of the richest resources for her project to recreate the 1890 Windsor census.
The Merwin Funeral Home ledgers are more than the records of a local business and more than a simple listing of names. The entries provide a glimpse into the personal and social life of the community of Windsor at the turn of the twentieth century.
By Barbara Goodwin, Librarian, 2013
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