Beginning in the mid-1800s, post-mortem photography (or memento mori) was a popular way to honor and remember the dead. Most photographs were taken shortly after death, and could look incredibly life-like, especially if the deceased was propped up into a standing position.
Post-mortem photos of children were particularly common, perhaps because their mortality rate was high during the Victorian era. Parents may not have had their child photographed while they were alive. In the event of a sudden death, the family would have rushed the body along to photographers to have a photograph taken as a reminder of their child. Some of these photographs were tastefully done showing the obviously deceased child lying on a bed surrounded by flowers and apparently asleep.
Some of them might really shock you...can you imagine holding up your deceased child in your arms for the last time? Even as a memory would haunt your life forever not to mention that having this unique photo in your house would never leave you heal your open wound...
However there is a reason for it. As ascribed above, this was a new technology used for mementos. Us moderns have tons of physical pictures, movies, films, vcr tape, cell phone, cd, dvd, text messages, email messages, public records that evidence our existence and we don't ever think about that. For these people, this was the first time that they would have something more than memory, word of mouth, and maybe a birth certificate that show proof that they had lived. When these people died, it was a last chance to get a picture of someone they loved. But new in the sense that this was a new technology and these were the first people who could take advantage of it.
But really, this is a touching and tragic display. Photography was more or less commonplace in the Victorian era; but it was still expensive for common worker.
Usually only professionals and amateur enthusiasts could afford cameras at the time, so it's not even at least 50 years in the future when everyone may have been snapping away with a simple box camera. Most of these people probably did not have any photos of their beloved.
I can totally put myself in the place of these families of having one last life-like photo (especially of children) to honor their beloved.
Share this really creepy habit of the past with others.