Cook County, Illinois Poor Farm and Cemetery to be Preserved

The following excerpt is from a December 25, 2012 AP story published in the Chicago Tribune.

Imagine strolling through a wooded acreage once called home by early 20th century occupants of a poor farm and patients of a tuberculosis infirmary.

… just 25 miles from Chicago.

That’s the plan for the Oak Forest Heritage Preserve, more than 170 acres of rolling forest and wetlands in Chicago’s south suburbs….

The site served as working farm, an infirmary and, from 1910 until 1971, the burial ground for Cook County’s indigents. Planners envision an interpretive museum, trails through fields of native plants and a community garden where the county poor farm once operated.

In the first $1 million phase of the Cook County Forest Preserve project, a 1.5-mile loop trail will guide visitors through the preserve’s main sites, with signs recounting land’s long-forgotten stories.

Someday, if funding can be secured, visitors interested in genealogy may be able to search through records of the more than 90,000 people who were buried in the cemetery, perhaps finding traces of an ancestor’s story. Handwritten volumes still exist that recorded the deceased’s name, country of origin, cause of death and occupation. Those records eventually could be used to create a searchable database at a visitors’ center.

Read the full and extensive AP article.

The Paupers Burial Ground South of Stinson Field in San Antonio

The following excerpt is from an extensive and very interesting article about an abandoned paupers’ cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. The article itself is in answer to a question in Paula Allen’s column, found in the November 1, 2009 edition of

Back in the 1930s, there was a paupers burial ground just south of Stinson Field. My brother, Nicholas Ely Delgado Jr., who died at birth in 1933, is buried there. There are still some rusted markers lying in the tangled underbrush just south of the field property. I talked to the crew who were constructing a helipad for a police helicopter port there, and some workers said they dug up bones. They also said they dug up some bones at a site just south of the larger cemetery on the north side of the field when they were digging a drainage ditch. I can find no information on this cemetery listed. My father told me that part of this cemetery is now partially under the Stinson field property. From what I gather, no one is allowed to go into this area. Some years back, before the brush took over, one could see the crosses there, but no more. I don’t understand why someone wanting to examine the site would not be allowed to do so. — Ben Delgado

Your brother’s birth and death do not appear to have been reported in San Antonio’s daily newspapers, nor are his birth or death certificates on file. Frank Faulkner, manager of the Texana/Genealogy Room at the central San Antonio Public Library, says this is not unusual for the time; he also checked with the city’s Cemetery Division and found no record of the burial of baby Nicholas.

The concept of a “potter’s field” as a public burial ground for individuals who are unknown or whose survivors are unable to pay for their burials dates back at least as far as biblical times. The term was used in San Antonio through the first half of the 20th century, when the cemetery at Stinson was just one of several places used for indigent burials, including the grounds of the county poor farm and a played-out city gravel pit.

While churches, religious orders and other charitable organizations provided space in their cemeteries or other property, responsibility for most such burials has been left up to city or county government since the late 19th century. Unproductive public lands could be repurposed; for instance, a former sewage farm was converted during the 1890s to a burial ground after the city failed to interest farmers in leasing it. The land was turned into San JosÈ Cemetery, with the lower portion between Six Mile Creek and what’s now the airport reserved for paupers.

Read the full column.

Group Seeks to Clean Up the Poor House Cemetery in Ottawa County, Michigan

POLKTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Eldon Kramer was writing a book on his family’s history when he discovered his great-grandfather’s resting place was an overgrown, neglected cemetery at an Ottawa County farm dedicated to the destitute.

“When I saw the deterioration, I hoped that, one day, it could be restored, because (the poor farm residents) are just forgotten,” said Kramer, a native of Holland, Mich., who now lives in Boerne, Texas.

What once was known as Community Haven, a “poor farm” established in Ottawa County’s Polkton Township in 1866 mostly for suffering Civil War veterans, was in operation into the 1990s. It is now the 229-acre Eastmanville Farm Park, but the Friends of Ottawa County Parks wants to make improvements to mark the cemetery where residents were buried before 1929.

Read the full article in the October 3, 2009 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

Graves Found at Former Poor House Site in Simcoe, Ontario

Have you ever tried dowsing for graves? There is an art to it, but I’d swear that it works. There’s an interesting article in the Simcoe [Ontario] Reformer dealing with finding graves at a former poor house site. Following is a teaser.

A woman in touch with the energy of the dead has determined what is believed to be the location of the four dowsingcorners of the old poorhouse cemetery in Simcoe.

“No one has been able to tell us that before,” said Irene Hopper, member of the Norfolk Chapter of the Ontario Genealogical Society.

It’s an exciting advancement for the society, which has been working to map the lost graveyards of Norfolk County for several years. More than 140 have been found.

In 2007, a dowser from Kitchener located about 50 unmarked graves at the old poorhouse cemetery.

The local genealogical society invited dowser Mae Leonard to help define the parameters of the burial ground at the former Norview Lodge site on Queensway West.

She has located hundreds of unmarked graves.

Read the full article in the Simcoe Reformer.

Mayview State Hospital in Allegheny County, PA, to Close

Why am I blogging the close of a state hospital in a genealogy-related blog? Because thousands of our relatives were born, lived and died at this facility. The Mayview State Hospital started in the 1893, known as Marshalsea, aptly named for for the famous London debtors prison. The 80 buildings on 335 acres in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania was preceded by Pittsburgh’s almshouse, on the same property. The poor, the orphaned, the unwed & pregnant, the tubercular, the insane, mentally retarded and others lived here on the banks of the Monongahela.

They kept records at Mayville that recorded the life events of patients who lived and died there. Where will the records go? Hopefully to the State Archives in Harrisburg.

Joe Fahy wrote a fascinating article for the December 28, 2008 Pittsburgh Gazette about the history and the closing of the facility. You might want to check it out.