HOUSTON, Pa. (AP) — Officials say a large western Pennsylvania public burial ground already thought to contain hundreds of remains actually has many more than previously thought — and there’s a new resource available to those who believe a relative may be buried there.
Potter’s Field — a term for common graves, those for paupers or unclaimed bodies — was believed to contain as many as 502 people, many of whom may have fallen victim to tuberculosis, The (Washington) Observer-Reporter reported.
But research conducted at the behest of Commissioner Harlan Shober, encompassing records kept for 66 years until 1945, concludes that more than 1,300 were likely buried there in unmarked graves.
In 1830, state lawmakers mandated that the county care for the poorest of its residents, which often included burial in unmarked graves. Almost 300 grave markers — bearing no names, only numbers — dot the hillside on a field near the site of the old Washington County Home for the Poor in Arden, Chartiers Township.
“Over the years, there have been inquiries about the names of those buried there,” said Shober aide Randi Ross Marodi. “Some old papers, some microfilm documentation and a tattered ledger did exist, but a searchable list of names was not available.”
Shober, she said, felt “everyone deserves to be remembered for the life he or she lived,” and an online database of available names “would give families, historians and genealogists a way to complete their research, thus giving those buried in the cemetery the dignity they deserve.”
A ledger contained the names of 57 people buried from 1879 to 1882, and another microfilm list had deaths from 1912 to 1921. The rest of the data was transcribed from an old, leather-bound ledger listing all deaths at the Washington County Home for the Poor and everyone buried in Potters’ Field from 1912 to 1945, she said.
Marodi said it’s uncertain when burials ceased at the cemetery, but documentation indicates at least 1,328 people are buried there. And since several people were often buried in a single grave and numerous graves are unmarked, researchers believe more people are buried in the cemetery.
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