cemetery records

19 Mar 2014

Forgotten New Yorkers

Courtesy New York TimesIn the New York Times today, an interesting article by Bess Lovejoy and Allison C. Meier on the graves of forgotten New Yorkers.

Believed to be the largest and most active potter’s field in the country, Hart Island has accepted New York’s dead since the mid-19th century.

At least one million souls – the homeless, the poor, the stillborn, the unidentified and the unclaimed – are buried there. In its long history, however, access to the island of forgotten New Yorkers was either forbidden or greatly restricted.

The history of the Hart Island potter’s field is one of fear and isolation.

At one point, Manhattan was home to about a hundred graveyards. But during the 19th century, rising real estate values and fears that decomposing cadavers were producing an unhealthful “miasma” prompted New Yorkers to move their dead out to Brooklyn, Queens and beyond. Of course, some of New York’s dead were never buried in the heart […]

4 Feb 2014

Bills of Mortality – Tuesday’s Tip

Bills of Mortality records are the topic of Tuesday’s Tip and a new-to-me record group.

Containing the weekly mortality statistics for London, Bills of Mortality were compiled by parish clerks. Before the nineteenth century, Bills of Mortality were the main source of death statistics. The earliest known bill dates from November 1532, but the records mostly date to the period when they were used to track deaths from the epidemics, particularly The Great Plague of London. In 1570, baptisms were added and 1629 the cause of death was added. They were published through 1836, when civil registration supplanted these records.

Infant and child mortality rates were so numerous, according to historian Lynda Payne at Children and Youth in History, that they were listed according to age bracket, rather than disease. “Chrisomes” were infants younger than a month old; “teeth” were babies not yet through with teething.

The Bills of Mortality are listed by parish and by cause of death (“griping in the guts” was one picturesque, if vague, category) and do not include names. But if you have death dates and locations that match these records, they can lend some important context to your family research.

London’s Wellcome Library, of the world’s great collections for the study of medical history, just made 100,000 high-resolution images available for download from their archives. The new digital collection includes advertisements, paintings by artists both renowned and obscure, and early photographs.

Also included in the Wellcome Library’s digital collections are Bills of Mortality during the Great Plague in London from 1664-1665. Search “bills of mortality” at Wellcome’s Images page.


14 Oct 2013

Female Stranger Tombstone

One-hundred-and-ninety-seven years ago today, a woman known only as the Female Stranger died in Alexandria, Virginia. What little is known about this woman is recounted in Famous Mysteries: Curious and Fantastic Riddles of Human Life that Have Never Been Solved, a 1919 book by one John Elfreth Watkins. Available at Google Books, it contains this passage:
Our account of the mysterious and dramatic happenings to which this unknown woman’s death came as a tragic denouement must commence upon the 25th day of July, in the year 1816, when the brig “Four Sons,” bound from Halifax to the West Indies, diverted her course to enter the Potomac and anchor off Alexandria. She remained just long enough to lower a boat and send ashore a man and a sick woman. When the small boat pulled up at the wharf it was seen that the invalid had on a thick veil, which, in spite of […]

27 Sep 2013

Hidden Truths: Mapping the City Cemetery in Chicago for Follow Friday

Hidden Truths: Mapping the City Cemetery in Chicago is a wonderful site by Pamela Bannos, a researcher who was curious about a why there was a large tomb for the Couch family in Lincoln Park. Performing dogged research through many archives, including Northwestern, Chicago History Museum, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Park District Special Collections, Chicago Title and Trust Company, and others, Bannos mapped the original city cemetery, researched the owners of plots, pursued every article she could find in the Chicago Tribune, and finally amassed this and other amazing work at her site.

Genealogists will be interested in particular in the mapping she’s assembled for City Cemetery, Jewish Cemetery, and Catholic Cemetery, on the present-day site of Lincoln Park, at these links: