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May Collection of the Month: Joseph F. Birch and Sons records, 1824-1904

As part of our Washingtoniana collections, the Special Collections Research Center features the records of many local businesses. One of the more unusual of these collections is from Joseph F. Birch and Sons, the oldest undertakers in Georgetown.

First a cabinet-making company founded in the early 1820s, Birch and Sons switched to coffin-making in 1842 and for many years was the only undertaking firm in Georgetown. During the Civil War the company handled the remains of many soldiers killed in battle, and its undertakers were instructed in the newest techniques of embalming.
The Birch and Sons collection consists of five ledgers, a number of individual documents, and one medal. The ledgers contain hundreds of pages of business accounts from 1848 through 1889, documenting the families with whom they did business and the services they rendered.

Anyone studying Washington history, the Civil War, or 19th century funeral customs will find interesting material here. For more information on the collection, check out the finding aid at: http://library.gwu.edu/ead/ms2056.xml.

A ledger page from the Joseph F. Birch and Sons records

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