Old School Death Announcements
Death announcements are part of the cremation services offered in Rockford, IL. These might appear in local newspapers or online at the funeral home’s website or on social media as the news of someone’s death is disseminated at the speed of light to the largest possible audience.
However, in the infancy of the United States, the customs of announcing deaths followed the newest inhabitants of the colonies from their countries of origins. One example of this was in the 17th century Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, which is now New York City.
In Holland, the news of someone’s death was announced by the aanspreker, which means speaker in Dutch. The aanspreker’s attire bespoke death: dark knee breeches, a long black cloak, and a three-cornered black hat with black crepe streamers dangling from it. When the aanspreker knocked at a house and an inhabitant opened the door, they immediately knew that someone had died.
The business of an aanspreker was an occupation, since there was no other means at the time of announcing someone’s death. The aanspreker had parallels in Rome’s town criers and England’s funeral bidders (who often carried a sprig of rosemary, a popular funeral flower, on their missions).
In Holland, the aanspreker was usually accompanied by someone whose job it was to sob at the end of each delivered message, but that tradition did not make it to the shores of the New World. In fact, while the aanspreker survived in Holland well into the 1900’s, their crying companion did not.
In New Amsterdam, death unfolded in a predictable pattern. First, the church bell would toll. As the last sound of the tolling bell faded, the aanspreker set out to work, knocking on doors of family and friends letting them know when and where the funeral of the deceased would be held.
In essence, the aanspreker was inviting people to the funeral of someone who had died. If a resident of New Amsterdam didn’t get an invitation, then they were not invited. To have shown up anyway would have been considered a breach of proper etiquette.
Therefore, the role of the aanspreker in New Amsterdam was very important. First, the aanspreker had to deliver the news with respect and sensitivity. Not everyone had the temperament or the skill to be a good aanspreker.
So, how did a person – and at that time, it was always a man – become an aanspreker? Profession usually dictated who were appointed to be aansprekers. They were often already associated with the funeral business, because they were also gravediggers, bellringers, and cemetery caretakers.
The extent of the responsibility of the aanspreker can be gleaned from the 1661 reproof of an aanspreker in New Amsterdam who was recalcitrant in his duties. He was warned not only to be a better cemetery caretaker and to ensure that the funeral bier was taken from and brought back to the proper place, but also, “to invite according to the old custom everybody to the funeral to announce the death, to walk steadily before the corpse, and to collect, demand, and receive pay only for his service, without demand and requesting more money on this account.”
While the common people of New Amsterdam generally had one aanspreker to announce their deaths, the wealthier citizens might have 10 or 20 aansprekers employed to make sure that everyone who needed to be invited to the funeral got their invitation.
If you’d like to learn more about cremation services provided in Rockford, IL, our compassionate and experienced team at Collins & Stone Funeral Home is here to help. You can visit us at our funeral home at 128 S 5th Street, Rockford, IL 61104, or you can call us today at (815) 965-1515.