“What is the role of a cemetery in an urban environment? What does the cemetery say about who we are as a people?” Asked, and answered, in Curbed.
During our site visit, team member Taylor Dietrich documented many of the grave markers. The inscriptions below are taken from a report provided to Shearith Israel by Jablonski Building Conservation, which performed a detailed assessment of the cemetery’s physical condition in the summer of 2015, and includes some information transcribed from the congregation’s burial register by Rachel Frankel.
Today our project team met onsite with Zach Edinger—the sexton of Shearith Israel—and one of his associates. He graciously answered questions about the historical information he had provided us (a large set of documents and reports) and gave us a tour of both the 11th St. and 21st St. cemeteries, relating stories about some of the more well-known occupants, offering additional background information, and updating us on both cemeteries’ restoration. He has already made connections for us to a team of conservators who surveyed the 11th Street site last summer, and we will be contacting them shortly.
We also learned that many records and old documents are archived in Newark, NJ and that he will make these available to us for further research.
At one time a database existed, which had also possibly served as the back-end of a simple online interactive map. Unfortunately, the website is no longer active and it seems that neither the creators nor the host backed up the information. Nevertheless, this points to the likely existence of more detailed records about cemetery occupants and memorials. It also serves as an important object lesson in backing up data!
Unless the original database records are found, our next step will be to reconstruct the database, beginning with a basic table of information we currently have in hand: names, some vital statistics, and some biographical information. We will also be looking for these individuals in the late 18th- and early 19th-century city directories and property maps held by the New York Historical Society, to determine any home and/or business addresses. Finally, we will connect, where possible, family and individual names with those in three published collections of primary source documents, to supplement the biographical data we have.