Person of Interest: Elaine Marie (Struss) Feret
Relationship: 1x cousin 1x removed
Source Citation: Elaine M. Struss-Feret Memory Card, 2016; privately held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, AZ, 2017. Elaine M. Struss-Feret paper memory card created by Morgan Funeral Home in Netcong, NJ, for funeral services. Lists full birth and death dates.
Document Description: Memory or prayer or holy cards have been around for a long, long time. The earliest known example is a hand-colored woodcut print of St. Christopher from 1423. As more modern printing techniques came into use, hand-coloring gave way to lithography. Then, as printing became even cheaper in the 1900s, these cards became widely distributed to friends and family members at the funeral homes that attended the deceased. The fronts of the cards generally feature either a picture of the deceased or some sort of religious, especially Roman Catholic, imagery or sayings. The backs generally have the person’s name, sometimes their birth and death dates in varying degrees of completeness, and a prayer or poem. This card is 2-1/2″ by 4″ in measurement and printed on both sides. The front of this card is full-color. There are full birth and death dates for Elaine listed.
I’d like the memory of me
to be a happy one,
I’d like to leave an afterglow
of smiles when life is done.
I’d like to leave an echo
whispering softly down the ways,
of happy times and laughing
times and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those
who grieve, to dry before the sun.
Of happy memories that I leave
when life is done.
Morgan Funeral Home, Inc.
Front of Card: Printed with various images
Analysis: The funeral home was nice enough to send me a number of cards, eight in total. I’ve scanned four of them for this post to give a feel for the types of things found on the front of the cards. Sometimes the family chooses on one image, sometimes there are a variety. Elaine’s cousin, Annie, chose a beautiful selection of flowers and sayings for the front and a joyous poem for the back to celebrate Elaine’s life.
Even if I didn’t already know that Elaine was Roman Catholic, the classic symbolism on the front of the cards would point me in that direction. The white lily is a symbol of purity and is closely associated with the Virgin Mary. The lamp (featured on two cards) symbolizes the presence of God and the existence of the soul. The wheat is a symbol of the bounty of the Earth and the connection to the Holy communion wafer. A white dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit and the thorns are an expression of grief or sin. Along the left-hand sides of the cards are found Latin crosses, Greek letters of Chi Ro (P with the X over it), and an individual Ro all which represent Jesus as the anointed one.
Additionally, this document gives you hints about what to look for next. Usually, the funeral home is the one who handles the interment which leads to the cemetery the person is buried in. Most likely the funeral home is located very close to the cemetery being used. The town in which the funeral home is located will give you a hint about what newspaper to look for a death notice or an obituary. The state will give you a hint on where to write for a copy of the death certificate.
This is an original record printed by the Morgan Funeral Home in Netcong, New Jersey, and sent to me here in Tucson. The information is both primary and secondary. Elaine’s birth date is secondary, someone had to tell the funeral home when her birthday was. Elaine’s death date is primary in that the funeral home was involved in the preparation of the death certificate and transport of the body to the funeral home on the day or next day after her death. The evidence is direct in that it answers the research questions, “When was Elaine of Netcong, New Jersey, and daughter of William Struss and Helen Repsher, born and when did she die?”
Depending on how much the funeral home or family choses to print on the card, these playing-card sized documents can be helpful in pinpointing when a person died. The minimum information that I’ve seen on the cards I have are the person’s name with a birth year and a death year or the person’s name with their death date and no birth date. Elaine’s is nice in that it list her birth and date places in their entire month-day-year format.