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  • New York State Cemeteries: A Finding Aid

    Marian S. Henry

    Compared with much of New England, finding vital records in New York State can be challenging. The state’s vital records do not begin until 1881, but cemetery records can help to fill the gap.  To aid researchers, the Association of Municipal Historians of New York State (AMHNYS) undertook a project in 1997 to survey all of the known cemeteries in the state.  This inventory, compiled by municipal and county historians, was the first statewide community service project of AMHNYS.  The result is a three-volume set titled The Association of Municipal Historians of New York State Name/Location Survey Project 1995-1997 (Heritage Books, Bowie, MD, 1999). 

    Historians were asked to fill out a survey form for each cemetery in their area.  The survey asked for the name or names of the cemetery, the status (active, inactive, deserted, unknown), type (family, religious, incorporated, indigent, military, etc.), time frame (year of first and last known interments), location, contact person, and any notes.  Family plots are noted as over or under ten, but it is not clear whether the “ten” refers to the number of surnames or the number of gravesites.  Entries are listed alphabetically by county, by town within each county, and by cemetery name within each town.  If you know your ancestor’s location, this finding aid will tell you which cemeteries were active in that town or county at the time of death.  Not all of the historians contacted returned the survey.  Towns in upstate New York not included in this publication are listed in a table at the end of this article.

    The information content can vary widely from one entry to another.  Less promising are the cemeteries named “abandoned” (10), “no name” (27), “deserted” (2), “unknown” (31), “unnamed” (34), or “name unknown” (4).  For example, there is little to be learned from the two entries shown below.

    Name

    PLOWED UP

    CASTLER FARM PLOT

    Type

    Family – under 10

    Unknown

    Stat[us]:

    Unknown

    Unknown

    T[ime]F[rame]

    Unknown

    Unknown

    Loc[ation]:

    About 150 ft. west of 19 in field on what is now Dawsen Farm.

    Unknown

    Cont[act]:

    Unknown.

    Greene town historian or town clerk

    One can only hope that at some earlier time the information was transcribed and may be found in some library or archive.  The information returned for a Crossettanner Farm Cemetery, for example, lists the location as “DAR Records. 4 stones.”

    When browsing through the entries, it becomes apparent that there are many ways in which a cemetery can be destroyed.  Here is a sampling:

    • Farm barn burned 1910, stones were used in rebuilding foundation. 
    • Resident owns property for 30 years had no knowledge of cemetery.
    • Existed under the junction canal, before construction of route 60. 
    • In/around 1822 bodies and markers were moved to Fulton street cemetery. 
    • Family members remember tombstones near fence, but they have long since been removed. 
    • Roads leading to it are over-grown. 
    • This cemetery has been plowed up, but was originally located on rte 26 just east of Taylor. 
    • No info on this cemetery has come up in research. 
    • Stones removed and relocated for railroad construction 1875-76.
    • Historical marker of burials dedicated 9/20/82, stones laid flat and covered over in the driveway
    • Stones tumbled in and unreadable.
    • In 1914 a road was built and the stone fence & monuments used in the road.
    • No visible stones remaining. New construction in area has obliterated all traces.
    • Nothing there today to show it was a cemetery.
    • Destroyed during the building of new office buildings (1995)
    • Only reached by overgrown abandoned roads, stones leaning against trees.

    On a more positive note, we find evidence for a clear distinction between “inactive” and “deserted” as a status, as indicated by “Boy Scouts maintain the care of this burial grounds” and “Lions Club of Oxford maintains care of burial grounds.”

    Some of the entries provide specific genealogical information.  Here are two of the best.

    Name

    BLESSING CEMETERY

    KILLAWOB HILL ROAD BURIAL GROUND

    Type:

    Other

    Other

    Stat:

    Deserted

    Deserted

    TF:

    1852 1852

    1878-unknown

    Loc:

    Salmon Creek Road, north of Red Bridge, at foot of East Hill, one grave, Homer Blessing. 

    441 Killawog Hill Road

    Cont:

    Lansing Town Historian 

    Lisle Town Historian

    Note:

    Died of small pox according to history.  Death date Sept. 6, 1852.

    Two stones Robert Pierce and Hannah, wife of, beside tree.


    Many of the cemetery names are strong clues as to who might have been buried there.  There are, of course, the family plots, for which you would simply look up your ancestor’s surname in the index.  (More about this peculiar index later.)  Below is one instance, however, in which the cemetery name comes from the current location, but the responding historian has listed surnames in a note.

    Name:

    GREGOR FARM CEMETERY

    Type:

    Family – over 10

    Stat:

    Inactive

    TF

    1811 1887

    Loc:

    one mile south of Morris turnpike (route 13) on county rte 18 (River Road) located behind Everet Gregory residence. 

    Cont:

    Pittsfield town Historian New Berlin. 

    Note:

    Surnames: Matteson, McIntyre, Persons, Spafford.

    There are also cemeteries named after religious groups, for example, Baptist Church Cemetery, Adath Israel Jewish Cemetery, Episcopal Church Cemetery, Asbury Methodist Church Cemetery, Catholic Cemetery, Congregational Church Cemetery, Dutch Reformed Cemetery, Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Friends (Quaker) Cemetery, German Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Reformed Church Cemetery, Universalist Church Cemetery.  If you know the denomination your ancestors were affiliated with, these entries give you a starting point for cemeteries in your town or county associated with the proper church.

    If your ancestors came into the area in the early stages of its settlement, you may look for them in “pioneer” cemeteries (22), “early” cemeteries (3), “old” cemeteries (200), “former” cemeteries (40), or “historic” cemeteries (3).  Or look for the pioneers to bring a place name with them.  One note states of the Ridgefield Cemetery, “these were settlers from a town in Conn. known as Ridgefield.”

    There are cemeteries attached to poor houses (one actually named “Potters Field”) and to prisons. There is a Civil War cemetery, active from 1864 to 1865, with a section for Confederate prisoners of war.  The Burden Mines cemetery “is for people who worked at the mines.”  A Black Cemetery is “a old Colored persons burial grounds.”

    There are some peculiar entries.  It is stated twice in one entry that this is “Not a Cemetery but a burying place.” Two pet cemeteries have been included, one of which is described as “Pet cemetery not known if a person is buried there.”  The other “Large Pet Cemetery” has had  “8 human burials there” as of 1995.  There is a cemetery currently on the grounds of a McGraw School, which was active from 1850 to 1854, that contains “about 6 graves of students from the college who died of smallpox.”  In some cases a site visit by a conscientious historian is hinted at.  One location contains the parenthetical warning “poison ivy.”  Another entry ends with the words “about 200 ft. back in a bed of lilies.”

    Another peculiarity is the index.  Apparently some of the returns were submitted in all capital letters.  This was retained in the data entry.  The index distinguishes these entries from the others.  In the index all-cap entries are listed, in alphabetical order, before the mixed case entries.  For example, entries for the letter K are as follows:

    KALES HILL PIKE-HAWKINS
    KEENEY SETTLEMENT CEMETERY
    KEERYVILLE CEMETERY

    KNOLL CEMETERY
    KNOX CEMETERY
    KNOX FAMILY CEMETERY
    Kaley Family Plot
    Kallmann Ground
    Kanona Cemetery

    Kyle Cemetery
    Kysorville

    The index is case sensitive.  KNOX is not the same entry as Knox.  BAPTIST is not the same as Baptist.  You must look in both locations in the index.

    The book’s introduction provides the following information about this professional organization. 

    “The Association of Municipal Historians of New York State was founded in 1972 and is the professional organization for the New York State Municipal (City, Town and Village) Historians.  The purposes are 1) to encourage local units of government to appoint official historians in compliance with Section 148 of New York State Educational Law; 2) to promote the training and establishment of professional standards for individuals appointed as local historians; and 3) to encourage local units of government to support the collection, preservation, interpretation and dissemination of the history of their communities and to support the work of appointed historians.  Membership is open to county historians and through Associate level memberships to all interested in New York State local history.  AMHNYS offers conferences including training sessions and workshops with the County Historians Association of New York State (CHANYS) and publishes the Historians Exchange, a bi-annual newsletter.  AMHNYS has eight chapters or regions across the state; is a non-profit organization that works closely with the New York State Historian’s Office.  For further information, contact your local historian.”

    Historians of the following towns in upstate New York did not respond to the request to survey their cemeteries. If you are searching for burials in these towns, this finding aid will be of no use to you.

    Albany County

    Berne

    Bethlehem

    Coeymans

    Green Island

    Guilderland

    Knox

    New Scotland

    Rensselaerville

    Westerlo

         

    Allegany County

    Belfast

    Birdsall

    Burns

    Caneadea

    Centerville

    Clarksville

    Friendship

    Wellsville

    West Almond

    Wirt

       

    Broome County

    Fenton

         

    Cattaraugus County

    Allegany

    Ashford

    Carrollton

    Coldsprint

    Conewango

    Dayton

    East Otto

    Ellicottville

    Farmersville

    Franklinville

    Freedom

    Great Valley

    Humphrey

    Ischua

    Leon

    Little Valley

    Machias

    Mansfield

    Napoli

    New Albion

    Otto

    Perrysburg

    Persia

    Portville

    Randolph

    Red House

    Salamanca (town)

    Salamanca (city)

    South Valley

         

    Chautauqua County

    Arkwright

    Busti

    Carroll

    Charlotte

    Chautauqua

    Cherry Creek

    Clymer

    Dunkirk (town)

    Dunkirk (city)

    Ellery

    Ellicott

    Ellington

    French Creek

    Hanover

    Harmony

    Jamestown

    Kiantone

    Mina

    North Harmony

    Poland

    Pomfret

    Portland

    Ripley

    Sheridan

    Sherman

    Stockton

    Villenova

    Westfield

    Chenango County

    New Berlin

    North Norwich

    Norwich (town)

    Norwich (city)

    Pharsalia

    Pitcher

    Plymouth

    Preston

    Smyrna

         

    Columbia County

    Austerlitz

    Canaan

    Claverack

    Gallatin

    Hillsdale

    New Lebanon

    Stockport

    Styvesant

    Taghkanic

         

    Erie County

    Amherst

    Boston

    Brant

    Buffalo

    Clarence

    Colden

    Eden

    Elma

    Evans

    Grand Island

    Hamburg

    Holland

    Lackawanna

    Lancaster

    Marilla

    North Collins

    Orchard Park

    Tonawanda (town)

    Tonawanda (city)

    Wales

    Greene County

    Catskill

    Williams

    Durham

    Halcott

    Hunter

    Jewett

    Lexington

     

    Hamilton County

    Benson

    Inlet

       

    Jefferson County

    Cape Vincent

    Champion

    Clayton

    Ellisburg

    Henderson

    Hounsfield

    Lefray

    Lorraine

    Pamelia

    Philadelphia

    Rodman

    Worth

    Lewis County

    Lowville

    Lyonsdale

    Martinsburg

     

    Livingston County

    Mount Morris

         

    Madison County

    De Ruyter

    Georgetown

       

    Monroe County

    East Rochester

         

    Oneida County

    Annsville

    Augusta

    Ava

    Boonville

    Bridgewater

    Camden

    Deerfield

    Florence

    Floyd

    Forestport

    Kirkland

    Lee

    Marcy

    New Hartford

    Rome

    Sangerfield

    Sherrill

    Trenton

    Utica

    Vernon

    Vienna

    Western

    Whitestown

     

    Oswego County

    Minetto

    Volney

       

    Otsego County

    Burllington

    Plainfield

       

    Putnam County

    Putnam Valley

    Southeast

       

    Seneca County

    St. Lawrence County

         

    De Peyster

         

    Sullivan County

    Bethel

    Callicoon

    Cohecton

    Delaware

    Fallsburg

    Forestburgh

    Lumberland

    Mamakating

    Neversink

    Rockland

    Thompson

     

    Tompkins County

    Ulysses

         
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