Allan Jordan, a Jewish genealogy buff from Roslyn, L.I., has hit a roadblock in tracking down his family history: Bayside Cemetery.
“My great-grandfather is buried at Bayside, but we can’t find the plot,” says Jordan.
Two years ago, Jordan visited the cemetery, where employees were able to look up his great-grandfather’s name in the incomplete office records, but could not say exactly where among the estimated 35,000 graves he was buried.
“They walked me out to where it might be, but the area was in such horrendous condition, I couldn’t see the stone,” Jordan says.
Rochelle Spergel of Manhattan faces a similar quandary: her great- grandmother and uncle are buried at Bayside, but “of course I have no idea where because there are no records.”
According to family lore, Spergel’s great-grandmother was quite wealthy, leading her to assume that she arranged for perpetual care — but is no longer getting it.
“It’s just so disrespectful,” Spergel says of the cemetery conditions. “You expect to find a cemetery like that maybe in Poland where people don’t care, or in Lithuania where there are no more Jews, but in New York City that’s terrible.”
As one of New York’s oldest Jewish cemeteries, Bayside could be a rich Jewish historical resource. More than 100 synagogues and Jewish burial societies have plots in the cemetery, which is believed to contain graves of Jewish Civil War veterans.
But those seeking to do genealogical or historical research at Bayside are often frustrated — like Spergel and Jordan — by the poor records and jungle-like conditions.
Jordan says complaints about Bayside “pop up periodically” on the discussion groups of JewishGen, a Web site devoted to Jewish genealogical research.
Grave markers, particularly in old cemeteries like Bayside, provide important historical information, such as birth dates and in some cases maiden names and birthplaces. Jordan believes that finding his great-grandfather’s headstone could help trace the family lineage back to Russia.
In addition, he says, the headstones can provide useful historical information about how children chose to honor and memorialize their parents.
Jordan recalls a headstone he found at a Brooklyn cemetery that contained a long description of the deceased.
“For all I know,” he says, “there’s the same type of thing on the stone I can’t find.”