Monday, December 2, 2013

Potter’s Field Records and Genealogy Research

Where Are My Ancestors Buried?
We know "Potter’s Field" as land set aside for burials in unmarked graves; often paupers and the poor and indigents' burials. But, “potter’s field” actually originates from the Bible- the Gospel of Matthew. When Judas Iscariot was overcome with remorse for accepting the thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus, he returned the coins to the temple. However, the priests would not accept the thirty pieces of silver, deeming it “blood money.” Instead the silver was used to buy land to bury the poor and foreigners. The purchased land had once been owned by a pot-maker, so it was known henceforth as “potter’s field.” (For a longer version visit: The World Detective.)

Where to Find Records
Although it would not be feasible to name all of the nation’s Potter’s Field burial record locations, here are a few frequently referenced Potter's Field record holdings:

3 Tips to Locating Ancestral Burial Place
  1. Begin with A Local Search. The local Potter’s Field was the answers to not only the burying the poor and unclaimed remains, but also to epidemic deaths, prisoner burials and for those not permitted to be buried on the church grounds. The smallest of towns seem to have a Potter’s Field. Often land was set aside adjacent to a City Cemetery for indigent burials. Such is the case with Hutchison, KS, Eastside Cemetery
    Tip: Begin with the last known residence of your ancestor and check the area for Potter’s Field.
     At a3Genealogy we begin with a 200 mile radius (especially in rural areas), but know our Kansas ancestors have been located in Chicago; and our North Carolina ancestors interred in New York.
  2. Learn About the Record Collection.  Like many historical collections, Potter’s Field records may not be complete. Even the NYC Hart Island records are missing two volumes of infant burial records, spanning 1977 to 1981. So be sure to understand the shortcomings of the records and collections.
    Historical cemetery names have changed and often the burial sites have been moved or expanded. Here’s an example from the Kansas City Times, 23 March 1972 account of Potter's Field:

    In 1911, the Union Cemetery of Kansas City closed their Potter's Field. In May 1911, the new Potter's Field opened at the Municipal Farms and was known as Leeds Cemetery…” 
    “Grave sites were marked with a metal stake that had the name of the deceased written on paper and held under a piece of glass. A few of the stakes can be found, but no names or marked grave sites have survived. All that remains is rough, hilly land covered by trees and scrub. This was known as Section #1 and had burials from 1911-1934. Section # 2 was opened in 1934 and had burials until 1965. This section was on the west side of I-435 while Section #1 was on the east side of I-435. The address for section #2 is 6900 Coalmine Road. It was the area where the police firing range is now located. The graves in Section #2 were marked with cement cylinders with numbers on them and each burial was given a number. Some of these remain in place.
  3. Research Historical Context: Were Ethnic Burials Allowed? Evergreen Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Los Angeles, parceled land for indigent burials as early as 1877.  This ethnically segregated cemetery held designated sections for Armenians, Japanese, Chinese, early white settlers, and a large section of Mexican graves, and acreage for indigent persons was set aside. Evergreen Cemetery historically allowed African-Americans to be buried at the cemetery also. 
    Ownership of the indigent cemetery passed from the City to the County of Los Angeles in 1917 - 1924. In 1924 Los Angeles chose to cremate the remains of their lost and abandoned and built a crematorium:
    Boyle Heights. We have located a listings of Boyle Heights burials, void of in-depth genealogical information. 

    The Jewish Cemetery Mt. Zion, Los Angeles, was created as a cemetery for the Jewish indigent between 1916 and 1919. There are over 6800 burials at Mt. Zion. Researchers can find the indexed listings on JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry(JOWBR).  The Hebrew name may be provided.
With a little digging, may you unearth your ancestor!

Kathleen Brandt
a3Genealogy.com
a3genealogy@gmail.com
Accurate, accessible answers

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