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Rich History at a New York Poorhouse

Written by Melissa Dellacato

Photo by Hannah Berg

A Civil War veteran, a diseased child, a victim of slavery—their stories were buried deep within the grounds of an old cemetery, long neglected.

Yet, in fall 2014, an Ithaca College anthropology class went to the former Dutchess County Poorhouse in Poughkeepsie, New York, to try to identify the graves that had been forgotten. The project was done in collaboration with the Dutchess County Department of Public Works, local historians, and Vassar College. The cemetery, which was active in the 1800s, lacks historical documents, so the group detailed the grave locations and demographics. They removed vegetation from cemetery grounds and measured graves based on the depressions in the individual grave shafts. Smaller graves were assumed to be for children.

Students also learned some of the stories associated with those who died in the poorhouse.

“Their individual stories are part of our collective history,” said Jennifer Muller, the anthropology professor who accompanied the students on the trip. “They must be honored and respected.”



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