Monthly Archives: July 2014

Kings County Potter’s Field: The Forgotten Dead

Back when I was much younger, I thought that burying the dead as a dignified affair.

I was wrong.

My assumption was first challenged when my parents first told me about the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan, since it was a case where people tried to forget about the dead. While my project had nothing to do with the African Burial Ground, this place gave me the inspiration to do research on a place where the dead have been long “forgotten.” That was when my mind turned to potter’s fields, or places where only the impoverished could be buried.

Brooklyn V. 10, Plate No. 73 [... Digital ID: 1810878. New York Public Library

Brooklyn V. 10, Plate No. 73 [… Digital ID: 1810878. New York Public Library

I started doing research on what potter’s fields used to exist in New York City, and this search took me through a book called The Fairchild Cemetery Manual: A Reliable Guide to the Cemeteries of Greater New York and Vicinity. While looking at this book, I noticed a mention of a potter’s field called “Kings County Cemetery.” I found this strange, because I have never heard of a “Kings County Cemetery.” It was a place prominent enough to be in the guide, yet now hardly anybody talks about it, save the occasional forum about a “County Farms Cemetery” (another name for Kings County Cemetery) on Ancestry.com. I wanted to find out more about this place, since it went from having some notoriety to disappearing into near-complete obscurity.

The initial information I looked for was on the location of the field, to make sure that the potter’s field really did exist. This search took me through the New York Public Library’s digital maps (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/).  As it turned out, some of the digital maps in their collection were property maps of Flatbush, the neighborhood the potter’s field was in. Through the property maps, I found out that the field was on Clarkson Avenue (labeled Clarkson Street on the property maps I found), east of the current Kings County Hospital Center but west of Utica Avenue.

Brooklyn V. 10, Plate No. 72 [... Digital ID: 1810877. New York Public Library

Brooklyn V. 10, Plate No. 72 [… Digital ID: 1810877. New York Public Library

I also found out a lot about the story of this potter’s field through The Brooklyn Daily Eagle‘s archives, which is on http://bklyn.newspapers.com/. Through the paper, I learned about when the place was open (from 1853 to 1917), and I also found out how many bodies the potter’s field had (over 100,000 people by the time the place closed). While these statistics are important, they ignore the tumultuous history of the field. It was a history marked by the threat of building over the field. It was a threat that was openly talked about by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1913, when the building of Winthrop Street (the street north of Clarkson Avenue) happened over a part of the potter’s field. The building of Winthrop Street was viewed as a sign of progress by the paper, and on a number of occasions the paper viewed the presence of the potter’s field as a symbol of blight. In spite of the disagreeable presence of the place, the circumstances involving the potter’s field closure (including the disinterments that followed) were equally disagreeable. This was because many thought that the presence of disinterred bodies out into the open air was a health hazard.

As it turned out, it was the issue of disinterments that took up much of my research time. When this potter’s field was asked about on Ancestry.com, a poster suggested that the bodies were re-interred to the Hart Island Potter’s Field (also known as City Cemetery) in The Bronx. This issue led me to the New York Municipal Archives, since they have Hart Island records. I asked whether they have any records showing that bodies were re-interred from the potter’s field on Clarkson Avenue to Hart Island. To their knowledge, there was no reinterment of Kings County Potter’s Field bodies to Hart Island. Further research on disinterments from Kings County Potter’s Field ended up showing that the Municipal Archives was almost certainly correct; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s article on the closure of the potter’s field said that the bodies would be moved to North Brother’s Island (North Brother Island, a currently abandoned island northwest of Rikers Island).

Unfortunately, I was unable to confirm (or deny) for sure that the bodies were re-interred to North Brother Island. However, in my efforts to confirm the reinterments, I was also able to find out that a potter’s field existed on North Brother Island. I managed to find out about a potter’s field even more hidden in local history than the one on Clarkson Avenue in Flatbush; since so little is known about these potter’s fields, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and forum posts on Ancestry.com are the only sources which mention what happened to the bodies that used to be at Kings County Potter’s Field. While nothing can be said for sure, a 1917 article from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on the Kings County Potter’s Field closure is probably more believable than a forum post made over 90 years after the field closed.

This does not necessarily disprove that there are still bodies under the former potter’s field. In fact, the building of Winthrop Street over a part of the potter’s field (without any talk of disinterments in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle) leads one to think that there might be some bodies under that street. Then there is the parking lot on the northeast corner of where the potter’s field used to be (near Winthrop Street and Utica Avenue); this is the one area of the former potter’s field property that has never been developed. If there are bodies below the current property (Kingsboro Psychiatric Center), it might be below the parking lot.

Regardless of whether the bodies were re-interred to North Brother Island, the uncertain status of where the bodies lie reflects on the truly forgotten nature of these people. Such was the lack of dignity given to the impoverished dead.

~Brendan

 

Sources:

Brooklyn Property Maps Showing the Potter’s Field:

Brooklyn V. 10, Plate No. 72 [Map bounded by Winthrop St., E. 48th St., Lenox Rd., E. 45th St.]. http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=1905946&imageID=1810877&total=131&num=60&parent_id=1902778&s=&notword=&d=&c=&f=&k=1&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&lword=&lfield=&sort=&imgs=20&pos=75&snum=&e=w.

Brooklyn V. 10, Plate No. 73 [Map bounded by Winthrop St., E. 51st St., Lenox Rd., E. 48th St.]. http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=1905947&imageID=1810878&total=131&num=60&parent_id=1902778&s=&notword=&d=&c=&f=&k=1&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&lword=&lfield=&sort=&imgs=20&pos=76&snum=&e=w.

Various reports on the Kings County Potter’s Field

Fairchild Sons. Fairchild Cemetery Manual: A Reliable Guide to the Cemeteries of Greater New York and Vicinity. Brooklyn, NY: Fairchild Sons, 1910.

“New Street Invades Paupers’ Graveyard.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 22 Aug. 1913.

“Keeper of God’s Acre Soon to Lose Place.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1 Jul. 1917.

“Paupers Burial Ground a Disgrace to the City.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 3 Jun. 1906.

Talk of a potter’s field on North Brother Island:

Horton, Sydney. “Chapter Spotlight: Safe Harbor.”  http://archive.audubonmagazine.org/fieldnotes/fieldnotes0501.html

Mystery At The Linden Tree Hotel?

Unlike many others researching their roots in America, mine have not been in this country for a long time. All of my ancestors on both sides of my family had sailed over to Ellis Island anywhere between 1900 to right after World War II. My background is completely Jewish Eastern European and since coming to this country there have been no crazy family stories that I have heard of. Dismayed, I decided to ask my Grandmother on my mother’s side once more about her large family scattered throughout the Boroughs of NYC (mainly Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx) to see if there was some sort or story or relative I could research that I did not know much about. It was then she told me of my great-great uncle Max Tendrich.

My interest in trying to find out more information on my relative heightened when my Grandmother had told me that when she was young Max had suspiciously died. She claimed that because she was too young to figure it out or even remember, the details of her uncle’s sudden death has always been a mystery to her. Since his death was left unexplained there was room for questions of suicide or murder and I became determined to find out what had happened to him or at least what his life was like.

Max was my great-grandmother Dorothy Tendrich’s older brother who was born in 1899 in Russia near an area that is now close to Poland. In 1908 Max’s parents Ida Freidman Tendrich and Israel Tendrich took their children and moved to New York. Fast forward through time, Max married a woman named Rose and opened up a hotel in Rockland County called the Linden Tree Hotel. My Grandmother said she remembered visiting the hotel once with her mother and that it was on Viola Rd. Sure enough through my research with the help of Cathy Michelsen, we found ads in the NY Post from August 27,1944 and

A photograph of the Linden Tree Hotel for a postcard. Circa 1930s. Dexter Press Inc.

A photograph of the Linden Tree Hotel for a postcard. Circa 1930s. Dexter Press Inc.

July 16,1946 promoting the hotel with the address 415 Viola Rd, Spring Valley, Monsey,  Rockland County. The earlier ad had Max’s name on it, this was an indicator for me that at that time in the 1940s he was still alive (his death year is still an unknown), however on the second advertisement in 1946, Max’s name disappears. Instead, his father’s name Israel is placed into the ad to promote that the hotel is kosher “Dietary laws observed under Rev. Israel Tendrich”. This piece of information was useful for me for I learned that not only could it have been possible that Max may not have been alive by then but I learned something new about Israel, which was that he was a Rabbi.

Next, I stumbled upon a deed to a house on Walton Avenue in the Bronx that Max and Rose had signed. The house today is still standing there and from the deed I could see that this was where they lived when they owned the hotel. When looking for any other newspaper article regarding Max’s death like an obituary or crime report, I came up empty handed. I learned that Max’s death was most likely not a murder as there would be headlines and articles written about it (unless it was somehow covered up) also for cases of suicide it would be hard for me to find my proof no matter how probable the scenario. In the early 20th century the Tendrich family, like many other Jewish families living in New York, was very religiously conservative. In many religions and societies suicide is considered taboo, so if Max did decide to end his life, his father a Rabbi, would of definitely tried to keep it out of the papers or cover it up to be just a tragic accident. From my research of studying religious life in New York during the 20th century, this was a strategy that many conservative families unfortunately had felt compelled to use. The area where the hotel was is now part of Temple Beth El which bought the hotel in the late 1940s and immediately transformed it. Overall, I have enjoyed finding a mystery hidden within my family history and tracing my ancestry in New York has been one of the most fascinating and thrilling research I have ever done.

Temple Beth El, the synagogue that replaced Max’s hotel.

Temple Beth El, the synagogue that replaced Max’s hotel.

My next step will be finding out more details behind this purchase, did my family sell the property because they wanted another synagogue in the area? Or was it just a coincidence that another Jewish establishment purchased it? Did Israel become a Rabbi there? Did the hotel go up for sale because of Max’s death or was he still alive? These questions will hopefully help me lead to finding out the truth behind Max’s life and the mystery surrounding it that is still left to be one day uncovered.

~ Rachel

The Changing Names of My Great-Grandfather

My family has long known that my great-grandfather changed his name and moved from Fuson, Jonathon and Nancy PortraitTennessee to California. During my time at the NYG&B I have attempted to track down as many records for my great-grandfather as possible to try and determine how, why, and when the name-change occurred.

My great-grandfather, Rufus Fuson, was born to Jonathon Fuson (1859-1941) and Nancy Dollar (1866-1942) on December 23, 1883 in DeKalb County, Tennessee. In 1903 he married Isabel Pack and they lived in the same district of DeKalb County as his parents. At the time of the 1910 census Rufus was 26 years old and lived in DeKalb County with his wife and two daughters, Dovie Sue and Edna May. Somewhere between 1910 and 1917, Rufus Fuson became Roy Love and moved to California.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In June of 1918, Roy Love married Lola Robinson in San Diego, California. Lola’s application for a veteran headstone after Roy’s death says he enlisted on April 8, 1917 and was discharged on June 30, 1919. Their first daughter, Lanell, was born in March of 1919. They went on to have seven more children, one of which was my grandfather.

Fuson, Rufus 1910 Census TNSeveral of Isabel Fuson (née Pack) and Rufus’ children died young. Edna (born 1906) and Floyd (born 1917) both died on November 8, 1918. Isabel seems to have died in 1922, according to some family trees on Ancestry.com, but I cannot be certain. After her death their son Willie Fuson lived with his grandparents, Jonathon and Nancy Fuson, as shown by census records. I am unsure what happened to their daughters, Dovie (1904-1984) and Stella (1911-?) but I believe they lived in DeKalb County for the rest of their lives. Some time after Roy’s death in 1954, my grandfather and his brothers and sisters discovered their father’s other family in Tennessee. I am unsure how the discovery was made. Several of the Love children went to Tennessee to get to know their half-siblings. My grandfather, Roy Jr. (1924-1999), said he met three half siblings on his trips to Tennesse. The oldest boy (Willie) was the only one who had no interest in kindling a relationship.

There was a Roy Love living in DeKalb County the same time as Rufus Fuson. Their information is so similar I originally assigned the wrong World War I registration to my great-grandfather. The other Roy Love was born in 1886 also to a Nancy. They lived only four districts apart in DeKalb County at the time of the 1910 census and both were farmers. The other Roy Love’s wife’s name was Lula and my great-grandfather married a Lola.
There are multiple explanations for my great-grandfather’s identity change passed around my family. My uncle claims that he got in trouble with the law for his involvement with moonshine and had to run. My mother’s explanation is more simple: he was just a jerk who went to war and decided not to go back to his family. My research hasn’t permitted me to confirm or deny either of these stories.

~Laura

Introducing the 2014 Summer Interns

interns

Some of our 2014 summer interns

Each summer, the NYG&B hosts talented high school, college, and graduate students who have a passion for genealogy, history, heraldry, or library science. In addition to working in the office and performing many necessary tasks, the interns are also asked to conduct their own individual research project. After an orientation to the many resources of the New York Public Library, the interns are allowed to choose their own research topics. While many of the interns choose to delve into their own family history, others instead choose to research the history of a building, neighborhood, church, or community. The summer interns will be posting to the blog to detail their progress in their research projects in the coming weeks.

The Milstein Division at the NYPL

The Milstein Division at the NYPL

Brendan is a history major from Dickinson College. He has been researching the history of a potter’s field in Brooklyn.

Elisabeth is a high school student from New York City.

James is a student from Columbia University. He is pursuing a degree in history.

Jason is a high school student from New York City.

Laura is a student from Fordham University pursuing a degree in history. She has been attempting to track an ancestor who underwent a name change.

Rachel is a student from Emory University. She is pursuing a a degree in Sociology and Film & Media Studies. She is researching her Jewish ancestors in New York.

Sarah is a recent graduate from Long Island University’s Palmer School of Library and Information Science.

Ted is a history major from the University of Vermont. He is hoping to discover his Civil War ancestors.

News You Can Use

New You Can Use in Your New York Research

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In the past month, GenealogyBank.com has added or updated collections for six New York newspaper titles. All of the titles are from the New York City area, and several were specialized newspapers targeting specific ethnic audiences, such as the Cristoforo Colombo, an Italian-language newspaper, the Jewish Messenger, and Vorwarts, a German-language newspaper. GenealogyBank.com has added the following new collection:

GenealogyBank.com has added additional issues to the following newspaper collections: