Looking for the Dead

Sheep5.jpg Is it common knowledge that they pack people together in single graves? I didn’t didn’t know this until I started researching my family history. As part of my sorta-vacation I went back to work a little on my family tree. I noticed something I had overlooked in email from my cousin Debbie, an Andreas Horn who was buried in Queens in 1883. I called the cemetery and found out that there are 10 people total in his grave. Who are they?? I wrote away for a burial list and now I can’t wait to see who’s in there. I love this kind of thing. Love it. Buried bodies=buried treasure.

Why do I love this research so? People I’ve never met, never heard of, and I love finding them. A young Horn mother and her baby died in childbirth not far from here on 17th Street and I keep meaning to walk by the house. Why?? Why on earth?? Is it because I never had children, it’s a different sort of continuing the family line? I didn’t go forward so instead I go backward?

Perhaps it’s just a different way of trying to establish permanence, and continuity, and thereby defeating death. (Ha. Death always wins.)

The picture is of my mother’s childhood home in Sheepshead Bay. My mother must have gone up and down those steps a thousand billion times in her life and there isn’t a trace of her left. I have a picture of her as a little girl on that block. It hasn’t changed even a little bit. Except everyone living on that block at the time are now likely dead or close to it. (Oh god. Morbid much?)

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

3 thoughts on “Looking for the Dead

  1. I learned about the multiple bodies per grave thing while researching my family tree in Ireland. I think genealogy has all the elements of a great mystery, but this time it’s personal. Plus all the things you mention. I once got a call from a distant, distant relative I’d never met or heard of, thanking for doing the research & donating a copy to the public library, where her daughter found it while doing a grade school project on her family tree. made me feel good.

  2. Interesting topic…

    When I lived in NJ, one of the places where I lived was down the street from a large non-secterian cemetery. I noticed that each grave digging project culminated in the placement of a large concrete burial vault. Seems that this practice is mandated within the state.

    I’m also fairly sure that multiple burials are forbidden within the Jewish faith.

    I wonder how multiple burials squares with the big buck steel caskets that the NY area funeral homes seem to be fond of.


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