Held at: Chester County Historical Society [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Chester County Historical Society. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Joseph B. Smith and Sons Funeral Home in West Chester, Pennsylvania was established in 1870, when Joseph B. Smith purchased the existing Hoffman Undertaking and Furniture Business. Smith’s firm, which was in business until 1994, was owned and operated by four successive generations of Smith men: Joseph B. Smith; his son, William B. Smith; his grandson, Ashton B.T. Smith; and his great-grandson, Ashton B.T. Smith, Jr. It ranked as one of the oldest funeral home businesses in Chester County.
Joseph B. Smith built a modern undertaking business that boasted the use of “mechanized equipment,” and an on-site chapel. Numerous newspaper articles report on improvements and expansions to the firm and the building in which it was housed. Joseph Smith’s business also included furniture and cabinet making, which in the late nineteenth century was a common combination of trades. William B. Smith joined his father in business and took it over in 1927 when Joseph died. William discontinued the furniture making part of the business, focusing his efforts entirely on funerals. Ashton B.T. Smith, William’s son, took over directorship of the business in 1944 when William died. Ashton’s son, Ashton B.T. Smith, Jr., in turn, assumed directorship in 1961. Ashton Smith, Jr. managed the funeral business for thirty-seven years, retiring in 1998. In 1994, prior to his retirement, Joseph B. Smith and Sons merged with other funeral homes to form a new company, Della-Vecchia Reilly and Smith Funeral Home, Inc.
All four generations of Smith men were also active in the greater West Chester community. Joseph B. Smith served briefly as Chester County Coroner in the 1870s. William B. Smith was a member of the West Chester Lions Club, and Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and he served on the vestry for the Church of the Holy Trinity. In addition, he was, at one time, president of the Chester County Funeral Directors’ Association. Like his grandfather, Ashton B.T. Smith was active in the civic life of West Chester. He also served as County Coroner. Perhaps of greater importance, he was elected burgess of the borough of West Chester from 1942 to 1950.
This entire historical note was written using information found in the Newspaper Clippings File at Chester County Historical Society.
[“West Chester. Business Houses. J.B. Smith & Sons,” various dates]. Newspaper Clippings File. Chester County Historical Society.
[“Smith, A,” various dates]. Newspaper Clippings File. Chester County Historical Society.
[“Smith, J,” various dates]. Newspaper Clippings File. Chester County Historical Society.
The Joseph B. Smith and Son Funeral Directors records contains the records created by that business from 1876 to 1946. In addition, there is a small cache of Smith family papers which date from 1883 to 1975. The Smith family papers section of the collection has very little to do with the business of the funeral home. The bulk of the collection is made up of funeral home records.
The collection is arranged into two series, "Funeral Home records" and "Smith family papers."
"Funeral Home records" are arranged alphabetically by subject and chronologically within the subject. Included records are account books, funeral registries, bills, funeral home ephemera, and undertaker and coroner licenses. The volumes of account books and funeral registries all have an index with the exception of Account Book volume 1 and Funeral Registers volumes 6 to 7. Of particular interest in the "Funeral Home records" are the funeral registers, which contain sections for information on the deceased's date of birth and death, cause and place of death, date of the funeral, location of interment, name of the parents, where the deceased was born, and their known occupation. It should be noted that inclusion of this information is sporadic and that the vast majority of listings are not filled out completely. The "Funeral Home records" contains one small gap in the series: a funeral register for 1908 to 1912 is not included in this collection.
The "Smith family papers" are arranged by subject. Included records are booklets and a map relating to Chester County; materials and newspaper clippings on the Church of the Holy Trinity; undated photocopied photos; memorabilia from the 1901 Inaugural Ball for President McKinley; personal correspondence; newspaper clippings, souvenirs, and memorabilia from various West Chester anniversary celebrations; and framed photos. Of interest in the "Smith Family papers" is a signed letter from then President Richard Nixon, congratulating West Chester on its 175th anniversary.
This collection will be of use to genealogists, medical historians, social historians, and those interested in the undertaking profession. Researchers with an interest in West Chester history may find the West Chester Anniversaries materials of value.
Gift of Ashton B.T. Smith, Jr., 1998.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
- Smith, Ashton B.T., d. 1970
- Smith, Ashton B.T., Jr.
- Smith, Joseph B., d. 1927
- Smith, William B., d. 1944
- Chester County Historical Society
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Jennifer Duli
- Finding Aid Date
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use, however, some items may be restricted. Please contact the Chester County Historical Society for more information.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.
Coroner license is oversized and framed, housed separately on shelf
This folder contains photocopies of images from CCHS Library Photo Archives, with two exceptions. There is an oversized framed photograph titled 1799-1899 Executive Committee of West Chester Centennial and another framed photograph that bears no description or date. Please see photo archivist for more information.Oversized Images
The two oversized, framed photographs are not housed in a container and instead are stored separately on the shelf.