Massachusetts · Momento Mori and Post-mortem Photography

Momento mori: ring commemorating the memory of a 7-year-old

July 2, 1747
Charleston, Massachusetts
Elizabeth Royall (7) dies (according to a momento mori)

Mourning jewelry or momento mori (lit. “remember death”) were created as a way to remember a loved on who had passed before photography was invented. (After photography came about, the art of post-mortem photography became the popular choice.)

Some mourning jewelry would include the deceased’s hair braided into a cord of a necklace or pocket watch. Others, such as the ring pictured, would include the loved one’s name, age, and death date to keep their memory close.

This particular one reads “Eliz Royall OB:2: July 1747 AE:7” which translates to “Elizabeth Royall, died 2 July 1747, age 7” (OB is a Latin abbreviation for obiit, meaning “he died” or “she died” and is the root of the word obituary; and AE is a Latin abbreviation for Aetatis, meaning “years of life”).

I attempted to find any information of Elizabeth’s short life, using the jeweler who created the ring as a starting point. The ring is attributed to Thomas Edwards whose business was located in Boston, Massachusetts. Using an online death certificate database, I found a young girl named Elizabeth Royal born June 7, 1740 and (according to the death record) died July 9, 1747 in Charleston, Massachusetts. It is possible the death record, which was placed into a large collection in 1970, contains typos. Existing newspapers at the time do not mention Elizabeth’s death, and the death record does not mention the reason for her death.

The momento mori

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