My family’s prized Victorian memorial card is daintily embossed and edged in black. It probably was not printed at the time of the funeral, however, because the year of the death is wrong. Civil records of Swaffham, Norfolk, England show that Elizabeth Brett died at age 96 years on 24 November 1866, not 1867. The village is small, and no other person of this name and age died in 1867.
Elizabeth Rich married William Brett on 4 Nov 1794. Looking for a birth about 1770 as her age at death suggests, I found a baptism for Elizabeth Rich on 12 Dec 1773. Of course she may not have baptized as an infant, but this christening means her death age may only have been 94 years. However in the 1841 British Census her age is 69 years; in 1851, it’s 78 years and in 1861, it’s 89 years – all indicating a birth in 1772 or 1773. The memorial card is probably wrong on this point too.
There are at least one or two more discrepancies. After seventeen years researching this family, I found only eleven children of William and Elizabeth baptized in the parish church. The births began two years after marriage and continued at regular intervals of 1-3 years until 1818 when until Elizabeth was in her mid-forties. I have found 39 grandchildren with only two children’s offspring unknown at this point.
Perhaps a descendant had the money and respect to print the card and distribute it to family members a few years after the fact, or “1867” is simply a typo.
All challenges aside, I’m happy to have this card because it set guidelines and suggested areas of research. The name of the Norfolk town had come down in oral history, but the only other written reference was in a family bible where it was misspelled, but may suggest the proper Norfolk dialect pronunciation.
The moral to this tale is that a funeral/memorial card is a secondary source so verify everything, even the death date.