Unburying Your Dead
One of the more frustrating aspects of genealogy is attempting to locate a death date and burial location for your ancestor. You know your ancestor is dead, and you know that his/her death occurred between 1870 and 1880 since there is census information on the individual in 1870 and a widowed spouse in 1880. But death records were not common in the 19th century. Finding a cemetery list naming your ancestor is just as exciting as finding a maiden name for your fourth great grandmother. We’re all hopeful that there’s a tombstone to provide us the full dates of births and death, and maybe even what damn county or shire in England, Scotland, or Ireland they came from. But in most of my families, cemetery information and tombstones have been scarce.
Now, imagine you’re lucky enough to discover which cemetery your ancestor is in, only to learn they aren’t there because that cemetery no longer exists. And, not only does it no longer exist, the records are missing.
Case in point, Union Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Union Cemetery was created in 1851 on 10 acres in the Eastern District of Brooklyn. In brief, the cemetery was founded by two churches – one from New York City and one from Brooklyn. The New York church sold its share to the Brooklyn church in 1875. Then in 1897, the Brooklyn church decided to sell the land after the burial site was full. Over 30,000 burials had occurred on the site, and all those bodies needed to be relocated. Families were given the choice of arranging for relocation themselves or letting the contractor hired by the church relocate the bodies. All bodies not claimed by a family were relocated to a ten-acre plot within Cedar Grove Cemetery in Flushing. This task was accomplished within a sixty-day period from December 1897 through January 1898. According to newspaper articles, single boxes was to be used to hold the contents of each grave, and the remains were then reinterred at Cedar Grove in corresponding order along with associated monuments. The burial occurred in numbered plots matching the order of removal.
But that’s where the recorded trail takes a giant dump.
The interment records from Union Cemetery no longer exist. Stones were misplaced, and even the 1897/1898 removal and interment records appear to have been “lost.” I have seen blogs that talk about records being thrown out by Cedar Grove after a water leak in their basement damaged boxed archives, but that’s just hearsay.
Where does this leave us? Well, in the case of my McLean family members known to have been buried at Union Cemetery in Brooklyn, we may assume they are now buried in Cedar Grove. Precisely where is not known. The current Cedar Grove Cemetery staff states they have no records to work with.
Based on this information, I have created Find A Grave memorials in Cedar Grove Cemetery for those McLean family members originally interred in Union Cemetery. I find it humorous that someone created a Find A Grave cemetery for Union Cemetery that you can load interments to. Most of the other cemeteries that have been moved don’t allow posting and have a link to the new cemetery. Sadly, some people can’t be bothered to read the notes that are on the main page for the cemetery and as of 1 Jun 2014 there were 5,610 interments in a cemetery that doesn’t exist. Even more astounding is that there are 24 photo requests. I’ve sent mail to Find A Grave, reporting the problem.
A well written history of the cemetery, along with pictures and maps, can be found at New York Cemetery as well as Brooklyn Library Removing the Dead. And one of the more interesting articles about why all the cemeteries are in Queens was The Cemetery Belt.