The Mercantile: Where Our Ancestors ShoppedThe Mercantile or sometimes called The General Store is where many of our ancestors shopped. There would have been so much to see in these kinds of stores. The penny candy on display in the candy jars, a barrel of crackers, the wheel of cheese and of course the caskets. Yes, I said caskets!
|Wiseman & Sykes General Merchandise Letterhead, ca. 1933, Houston County, TN. Archives|
Today, when we walk into the mall or our favorite grocery store we will most likely not see caskets for sale. But in the local mercantile, in the 1700's-1900's, it was common to see caskets on display and for sale. It was also common for the mercantile to be the local undertaker or funeral director. The mercantile letterhead would list as part of their services and product offerings "Funeral Director" or "Undertaker".
|C.C. Cook & Company Letterhead, ca. 1921, Houston County, TN. Archives|
This is why it is important to research the local businesses where our ancestors lived, especially the local mercantile or general store. These businesses generated store ledgers, piles of receipts, accounts payable records and even a record of who bought a casket for their dearly departed. These records could be in an archive, historical society, genealogical society, library or local museum.
Records for the local mercantile could list anything purchased at the store, including caskets. There could be invoices or receipts that specifically list fees for embalming, caskets, clothes to dress the deceased, etc. like this account receipt from the Sparkman General Merchandise Store. When searching for death information on an ancestor, these records could prove to be helpful.
|E.P. Sparkman General Merchandise/Funeral Director account invoice, ca. 1939, Houston County, TN. Archives|
Records for the local mercantile or general store will be located in either the Vertical Files Collections or the Manuscript Collections in an archive. Ask the archivist about the local stores in the area and if there are records available. The records for the local mercantile can be a gold mine for the genealogist.
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