Monday, May 02, 2016

Jewish American Genealogy - 2

by @azigra

When my great great grandmother Chana Payes died at age 44 (a widow) she left her family without the money to afford her a proper grave and tombstone. She died in Mount Sinai Hospital on August 2, 1895 and was buried in the hospital's own burial society at Cypress Hills Cemetery (CHC) in Brooklyn. (I wrote about her previously on DovBear here.)

Mt Sinai Hospital, NYC 1893
Cypress Hills is an area on the Brooklyn-Queens border which has many Jewish cemeteries as well as a non-Jewish cemetery simply called Cyprus Hills Cemetery. I spent years going from cemetery to cemetery trying to locate her grave, assuming all along that the lazy individual who filled in the death certificate wrote Cypress Hills meaning the area not the cemetery. I recently sent letters to each of the offices and finally received a response that she was located at CHC.

According to the Mount Sinai Archives: 

"Initially plots to bury indigent patients were donated to the Hospital by Jewish congregations and benevolent societies. In June 1878, land was acquired in Cypress Hills Cemetery for Mount Sinai through the efforts of Samuel M. Schafer, Esq. There were 110 lots, measuring 20 x 20. Most of the 20th century correspondence relates to the management and upkeep of the cemetery plots."

The hospital placed simple gravestones at the head of each plot stating only the grave number and name. It seems that later on (some) families, when they could afford one, came back and placed fuller horizontal tombstones on top of the the graves.

Most of the hospital's stones are illegible after years of weather beating against the slate engravings and only a few of the fuller tombstones are uncovered enough to be read. Many of them have sunk leaving only a few words or letters visible and presumably there are many many more completely covered by dirt and grass.

The cemetery office doesn't have a plot map with names or records detailing who was interred in which grave. Mount Sinai's archive provided me with a society map but this too has no names on it.

I am hoping her children managed to purchase a proper stone for her later on and it is just buried under an inch or two of dirt. 

I suppose it doesn't matter that I wont be able to find the exact location of her grave but after years of searching it was a bit disappointing to get so close and yet not completely. 

I wonder if it would be a nice thing for me to put up a tombstone somewhere in the area stating that within this area is buried Chana Rifka bas Yitzchok Nessanel, if it would be a matter of kavod hames, or whether it isnt necessary. 

I recently emailed J* letting them know about this completely forgotten about Jewish burial society in the middle of NY offering to volunteer to somehow record what info is available, but they rejected my proposal. 

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