Genealogists can learn much by visiting the cemeteries where their ancestors were buried. There is important information on the gravestones. It is possible to discover other ancestors who were buried nearby. This becomes impossible, however, when cemeteries are repurposed.
There have been several cemeteries in Chicago that have been relocated so that the land they were located on could be repurposed into something else. Some of these projects worked, and others did not go very well.
Lincoln Park used to be Chicago City Cemetery. Burials in that cemetery began in 1843. Interestingly, this cemetery was created after the city relocated two smaller cemeteries that were located at the northern and southern edges of the town.
People started to complain about the Chicago City Cemetery in the mid 1850’s. There were accusations that the City Sexton, who was in charge of the cemetery, had “let it go”. It was said that caskets had begun rising from the ground. People saw the situation as something that could become a city wide health threat.
The other issue that was happening at the same time was a call for more green space. People started pushing to have the Chicago City Cemetery turned into a park. Years later, we know those that held this viewpoint prevailed. This is why Lincoln Park was created.
There were about 35,000 people buried in the Chicago City Cemetery. It is estimated that somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 bodies remained by the time the cemetery lot exchange costs were recorded in 1886.
Some of the bodies are those that were located in Potters field, an area of the cemetery that was reserved for the poor. The same area held the bodies of unidentified victims of cholera and those who died in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Today, new construction in Lincoln Park comes with the risk of unearthing the dead.
The St. Johannes Cemetery, located in Bensenville, Illinois, was relocated in 2011. The reason was because the city of Chicago wanted to expand O’Hare International Airport. There were about 12,000 graves that needed to be moved.
This situation created an unexpected problem. Relatives of the people who were buried in the St. Johannes Cemetery had to claim their ancestors. It was unclear what would happen if five people claimed the same ancestor. The person who made the claim was allowed to make arrangements for the removal of the body.
In some cases, a person went to claim an ancestor only to discover that someone else had already done so. The cemetery wasn’t revealing the names of the claimants, and this made it impossible for people to discover where their ancestor was being relocated to.
Image by discosour on Flickr.
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