Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Project catalogs 5,600 graves at Jewish cemeteries

Hat Tip: Nolan Altman
Marty Cohen hadn't visited his grandparents' graves in nearly 40 years. So long, in fact, that in the dizzying maze of Hebrew and English headstones in the city's old Jewish cemeteries, he couldn't find their plots. It was an embarrassing admission for Cohen, who knows that failing to remember the past and your ancestors is almost a scandal in Jewish families.
So he turned to Gloria Green, who he had heard was patching together a new digital catalog of the cemeteries on Kelly Street, where Indianapolis' Jewish community has been burying its dead for 150 years. In a few keystrokes, the weight was lifted.
"It was just a matter of boom, zip and she had a photo of their stone and a location for them," Cohen said.
Green recently completed a three-year project to build a new online database of all the 5,600 graves in the 11 Kelly Street cemeteries -- an effort hailed by genealogists and historians as filling a crucial hole in the preservation of the city's Jewish past.
Green and volunteers sifted through handwritten congregational and mortuary records dating to 1935. And they went headstone to headstone through the crowded rows of graves. In some cases, Green dived into thickets searching for headstones lost to time and overgrowth.
The richest trove of new information may be the record of the dead buried by poorer ethnic immigrant groups whose record keeping was the spottiest -- those of Russian, Polish and Hungarian Jewish descent and one cemetery owned by a synagogue known simply as "the peddlers congregation."
The wave of Jewish immigration to Indianapolis began with a trickle of German Jews who arrived in the decade before the Civil War. Other groups followed. But at its peak in the 1920s, the area bounded by Bluff Road and South Meridian, McCarty and Raymond streets was a thriving Jewish enclave of merchants and tailors, butchers and scrap dealers -- roughly 6,000 in all.
Click here to read the entire article and here to visit JewishGen's Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR).

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