Marion Roes has delved into some personal family history to create a book that gives insight into the history of Elmira as well.
Roes, who grew up as part of the Dreisinger family, started work on her book, From a Horse-Drawn Hearse to Studebakers, Packards and Cadillacs, earlier this year, diving into her personal treasure trove of photographs and information on the funeral home business.
She chose an unusual way to look at the subject — tracing the history of the vehicles that were in use at any given time at the Dreisinger Funeral Home.
The idea came about after some old photos were featured in the Record’s historic photo feature.
Roes was contacted by Tom McPherson, a car historian, who hoped to be able to get a few copies of the photos for his own collection. In exchange, McPherson offered to identify the cars for her.
Roes jumped at the chance, knowing that she had no real idea of the different makes and models of cars that appeared in many of the photographs she had on file.
That, combined with the early financial records of the business that she already had on hand were all that she needed for her book.
By going through the financial statements carefully, Roes was able to determine which vehicles were purchased when.
Roes decided that it would also be a good way to consolidate some of the information she had on hand, to make it more accessible to local amateur historians.
“It’s partly for my own records as well,” said Roes.
As she conducted her research, Roes also came across interesting tidbits — including the time someone used the funeral cars for their wedding party in Conestogo, a story she had heard before but wasn’t able to confirm until someone who heard about the book provided her with the photograph.
“Those kind of anecdotes made it more interesting,” said Roes.
She also heard about the family that purchased an old funeral-home vehicle because it could seat seven — a handy thing with the larger families that can be found in the area.
Roes said that growing up with the business meant that it was always part of her life, and death was robbed of some of the “mystery” that others attribute to it.
“When you grow up with it, it’s part of your life,” said Roes. “When I was growing up and coming home from school, I remember stopping in at ‘the store.’”
Her mother, Hazel Dreisinger, earned her funeral director’s licence in 1937, and her sister, Grace Maher, still works at Dreisinger’s to this day.
Roes also remembers the vehicles, remembers how all nine vehicles were parked just so in the parking lot, with only an inch space on either side.
“It always amazed me,” said Roes.
Roes will have an official launch of her book at Dreisinger Funeral Home on Monday, Oct. 7, at 6:30 p.m. From a Horse-Drawn Hearse to Studebakers, Packards and Cadillacs is also for sale by contacting Roes at 519-883-1448, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, at a price of $20 per book.
Roes is hopeful that the book, once in the hands of local residents, will also trigger sources of new information.
“You never know what kind of information you are going to get, what folks will remember,” said Roes.