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Hart Island in New York

Hart Island Some people will know of this place but most will not, yet it may hold the key to some information on an ancestor. What Hart Island is in New York City is the burial grounds for the poor and indignant people of the city. It was established in 1868 but not just for the poor. Sometimes there was no identification on a person or no one ever claimed the body, they were a “John Doe”. Based on the records for Hart Island, over the years over 850,000 burials have occurred there.

It is an island off the coast of the Bronx, so access is only by a boat, but no so much for visitors, just for workers to maintain it and bring vehicles carrying coffins. In size it is 101 acres. Its history includes more than being a cemetery, it also had a prison workhouse for boys, hospitals and barracks from the Civil War that were turned over to the city, an insane asylum, and a home for victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1870. So there are some buildings on the island, but they are in poor condition.

Because many of the burials, the name was unknown, there is no record. For those with names the records were many times just a scribbling. Now online are approximately 65,000 names in the official registry which dates back to 1977. Some records were lost in a fire there in 1977. Records for the 1956-1960 and some of the 1970s were burned.

Having this database, Burials at Hart Island, of at least some names might help people find out what happened to an ancestor. The first and last name is provided, some with a middle name also. The person’s age is listed, their date of death in month, day and year. Last is the place or location of death – a hospital name, a house, a store, etc.

This cemetery is run by the city of New York and is the largest tax funded cemetery in the world.

Photo: Aerial view of Hart Island taken in 1950.

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