Today’s post was written by Grace Schultz, archivist at the National Archives at Philadelphia.
When we lay our loved ones to rest, we expect their remains to… well… remain. However, final resting places are not always final. As can be seen with the relocation of two cemeteries in the 1950s and 1960s in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, sometimes cemeteries must be relocated to facilitate public works projects.
Communities along the Lackawaxen River had suffered severe floods in 1936, 1942, and 1955. As a response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook the Lackawaxen River Flood Control Project in the late 1950s to develop the Prompton and General Edgar Jadwin Reservoirs and Dams. This integrated reservoir flood control system provides flood protection to Prompton, Honesdale, and Hawley, and other smaller communities along the Lackawaxen River. In order to make this possible, though, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to strategically flood portions of the area where there were homes, farms, and two cemeteries.
Among other things, the East Dyberry and Nelson cemeteries needed to be removed to new sites before the Dyberry Reservoir, Jadwin Dam, and Prompton Dam and Reservoir could be developed. The engineers and contractors needed to obtain permission from descendants of the deceased approving grave removal, photograph the graves before removal, develop maps showing graves and the names of the interred, create inspections and maps of the new burial sites, and much more to ensure the correct relocation of the bodies and gravestones.
Among other documents, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Attorney compiled a report with background information about both cemeteries, including the articles of incorporation, maps, survey map, bylaws, and transcripts of the land deeds for the East Dyberry Cemetery, as well as the deed description and map of the Nelson Private Cemetery. They also included a transcript from Title 9, Section 47 of Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes and Consolidated Statutes which permitted the “change of location of burial grounds or portions thereof; removal of bodies, title to lots conveyed; rights of lot holders.” The report was approved and signed on October 22, 1957, and the cemetery relocation commenced soon after.
The Nelson Private Cemetery contained twenty-six bodies, only some of which were known by the family. A map of the property shows where the bodies were buried and listed the names of the known decedents.
At the time of this relocation project, the East Dyberry Cemetery occupied about 3 acres with approximately 691 bodies buried there. There are several maps of this cemetery, and some of them include individual names of the people buried and/or their next of kin.
A little less than a year later in August 1958, the Corps produced Volume 1 of Data, Relocation of East Dyberry Cemetery, Wayne County, Pennsylvania, Flood Control Lackawaxen River Basin, Pennsylvania, Dyberry Reservoir. This document explicitly detailed how the work would be contracted out, and how the contractors would complete the work. The Specifications for Relocation of Cemeteries Table of Contents provides a snapshot of the report, which can be viewed in its entirety in the National Archives Catalog here.
The engineers and contractors photographed the cemeteries before and after relocation and included the photos as attachments to the reports.
The Prompton and General Edgar Jadwin Reservoirs and dams are still functional today and an integral feature in Wayne County. Prompton State Park was established in 1962, provides boat launching and picnicking facilities and is still operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The records in this collection are an unexpectedly rich genealogical resource which may be helpful to researchers trying to locate the new burial places of their ancestors. It’s important to note that not all cemetery relocations were carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Records relating to cemetery relocation can be held in a variety of repositories, depending on why they were relocated and by whom. Local government archives, historical societies, special collections, and more could hold related records.
The files discussed in this blog post are located at the National Archives at Philadelphia. Interested in learning more or reviewing the records? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss.