2024 May 23 Thu

A Darker Side of Genealogy

A Darker Side of Genealogy
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I have tried multiple times over the last couple days to get this to post. My whole autosave drafts have disappeared.  The backups were missing too. The page would not save, when I tried to publish it, there would be an error and all of my changes wouldn’t save but disappear. I’m tenacious though and I have proven to be successful, regards of the headaches I’ve experienced in trying to publish this. I have written and rewritten this post several times, only I’m too stupid to quit or give up or otherwise throw in the towel. It’s my blog and if I want to post pictures of ghosts and postmortem people, then I will. That being said, enjoy. 

In 1959, a Mrs. Mabel Chinnery went to visit the grave of her mother. She brought along her camera for the purpose of taking pictures. (Apparently, photographing headstones is not something new!)

After she was done and on her way back to the car, she did an impromptu and snapped a picture of her husband who was waiting in the car for her.

Later on, when they were developing the photos, they discovered that he was not alone in the car. Mrs. Chinnery recognized her mother sitting in the back seat. I know it sounds odd, but if Mrs. Chinnery really wanted to visit her mother then maybe she should have stayed in the car.

The lady you see in the back seat is the mother of Mrs. Chinnery. The blouse, the jacket, and even her glasses are visible. That is more interesting are the facial features that are visible. Her cheeks, a mouth, forehead, and even the color of her skin could be determined (being Caucasian).

The photos have been examined by experts who declared it was not a reflection or double exposure, making this an authentic picture. I wouldn’t label this as being a postmortem picture, but more of an afterlife photo.

During the Victorian Era (1837-1901) and the invent of photography, another step in our interest in death was taken in the form of postmortem pictures.

These were often done as a part of the grieving process for the people who were still alive. A mother holding her deceased child was probably one of the more common photo poses I’ve seen when it comes to postmortem. Another common setup is the mother and or siblings with the deceased child. Sometimes people were set up into poses with the use of clamps, posts, and very stiff wires.

The pictures were sometimes marked afterwards to show the pupils to make the person look more alive. I’ve seen markings on pictures that I knew of people who were alive but this practice was also done with deceased persons too.


Of the two pictures above, the left one was taken in the Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana. It’s one of the more famous pictures of the ghost that has become known as the Gray Lady. The picture on the right is from Ghostbusters (1984).

You can read about the Gray Lady on the Library Ghost Web Site they also have live cams set up all over the place that refresh every minute. She has been spotted in each of the areas where they have cameras set up.

As a genealogist, we are prone to spending a lot of time in libraries. Just because you may be in a remote part of the library researching, does not mean you are alone. A ghost of an old librarian might be there to assist you or possibly even an ancestor to help you in your quest for knowledge of the family history.

This picture was taken Dec 1891 in the Combermere Abbey Library while the funeral of the Lord of Combermere was being held four miles away. The shutter was left open for an hour and caught the faint image of what appears to be Lord Combermere sitting in his favorite chair.

Lord of Combermere was a title, but his name was Colonel Wellington Henry Stapleton-Cotton, 2nd Viscount of Combermere.

You can read more information about him here as a starting point.

In the cutout is the picture of Freddy Jackson, an airplane mechanic who was killed a couple days prior. His funeral was taking place and while everyone was in dress uniform, a group photo was taken. Sometime later on he was seen.

The photo is owned by Sir Victor Goddard, Royal Air Force officer (ret.). The photo was first publicly seen in 1975 and it was taken in 1919 during World War I.

Since he was killed a couple days prior by an airplane propeller, he may not have been knowing or accepting of his death. His mates identified him for sure.

Here is another postmortem picture of a small child that has died. The thing that I found to be incredibly creepy about this picture in particular is that the baby’s eyes are open.

Other small features that I notice are the curves of the mouth and how its eyes are also sunk in.

Again, I’m not an expert on Victorian Era mourning practices but of all the postmortem pictures I’ve seen, this to me is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.

This picture shows a family of five that all show trauma from apparently an accident. I can’t really date the picture, but it looks to be from the early 1900’s and it might have been a car accident.

If the open eye dead baby was the creepiest one I’ve ever seen, this has to be one of the saddest. A whole family wiped out from an accident.

I’ve seen a similar pose like when the Dalton Gang was killed in a failed bank robbery. They were laid out in the same manner.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts, residual or intelligent hauntings, or completely avoid the subject of death when it comes to genealogy because it creeps you out, you cannot deny the fact that it is there.

Death is every bit a part of our existence as life is. With each of the different samples under varying degrees, I want you to stop and consider if you have any postmortem pictures of your family but don’t know it. There are very subtle clues that would tell you for sure if the person was deceased when the photo was taken. Research some and examine your pictures. You just might be surprised at what you find within your own collection. Remember that the pictures were taken so that their loved ones could remember what they looked like in their final moments after life. It may be the only​ picture of that person.

The next time you walk through a library or a cemetery, just remember that you really aren’t alone. I’d certainly like to believe that on many occasions when I’ve hit my own brick walls that my family was there to give some guidance. My help many times I know came from Divine Intervention, but those are stories for another day.

While we do not understand the breadth and depth of the spirit world, you cannot deny the fact that it is there. While we may not like postmortem pictures because it creeps us out, we cannot deny the fact that it is there. Mankind has had fascination with death for as long as we’ve been around. Whole religions and cultures have hinged on the worship or observance of death. Even genealogy takes an interest in death with facts, certificates, information, circumstances, and cemeteries.

This is the darker side of genealogy.

Happy Halloween

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Editor-in-Chief for The Daily Journal

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  1. Mary

    The photograph of the deceased family is a photo of a family who had been murdered in 1906 Here is a small backstory
    This is a photograph of Carrie L. Parsons, wife and three children murdered by Joseph Hamilton about two miles east of Success, MO on Friday October the 12, 1906. Parsons had sold his crop to young Hamilton. On the day of the murder Parsons loaded his family in his wagon and started for Miller Co, MO when about two miles east of Success at what is known as the old Vance Place, he was murdered. The wagon was then driven into thicket of brush and left until about midnight that night when young Hamilton returned and drove to Piney River. There he threw all the bodies into the water , and two of the children were found by a fishing party within one hour after they were thrown in. Hamilton was arrested two days later trying to make his escape. He made a full confession of his crime and was hanged

  2. summer

    the one i thought was the creepiest was the opened eye baby. i think the alive spirt was still inside the baby just waiting to come out of the babys body to see his or hers family.

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