Office of Undergraduate Research

The Milwaukee County Institution Grounds (MCIG) Cemetery Project

Excavations conducted the Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery or Potters Field on the Milwaukee County Grounds, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin uncovered, documented and removed 987 adult, 568 subadults and 76 indeterminate burials comprising 1649 burials. In 2008 the UWM Archaeological Research Laboratory applied for and was granted final disposition of all human remains, personal artifacts, burial hardware, field notes and field images associated with the 1991 and 1992 excavations at the Milwaukee County Institutions Grounds-Froedtert Tract (site # 47 MI 527). A material culture analysis of the grave goods from the Milwaukee County Poor Farm has been completed by Richards (Richards 1997). As none of the graves had markers and none of the individuals identified, the goals of this study were to identify distinct classes of paupers based on variability in material culture. The three categories of individuals were detected through a combined analysis of grave goods and historical documents are: 1) those who died at one of the various county institutions; 2) those unidentified at the time of their burial (often victims of accidents, homicides, or suicides) or without relatives to pay for a proper burial; and 3) those who had relatives involved in the burial without financial means to arrange burial elsewhere. In addition to the material culture study, Richards completed an in-depth spatial analysis. This analysis provided not only a detailed map of the cemetery, but also the construction of a valuable land-use timeline. In addition, with the discovery of four grave number tags, 190 individuals were tentatively identified. These identifications and the spatial data will be essential components in identifying the remainder of the excavated population. While individual names are not for the most part associated with individual burials, a document known as The Register of Burials provides the names and approximate dates of death for all those buried in the excavated portion of the MCIG cemetery. Acquisition of Milwaukee County Death Certificates for each individual listed in the Ledger is important. These documents may contain the vital statistics crucial to identification, including whether or not an autopsy was performed. Even in the least ideal cases, an age or age category and sex can be assigned to each name. The MCIG Cemetery project is currently collecting death certificates and coroners inquest documentation. The focus of the most recent research is on identification of additional individuals from the MCIG Cemetery. To facilitate this, age and sex identifications of the skeletal population are necessary. These classifications will clearly play an integral part in linking the individual names listed in the ledger to the excavated skeletal remains . The MCIG Cemetery project is in the process of verifying and refining the age and sex assignments for each burial.

Tasks and responsibilities:

Students will be trained in archival research techniques utilizing documents found in the UWM Library as well as at the Milwaukee County Historical Society. Students will also be trained in age and sex identification and well as appropriate recordation of individual skeletons recovered from the MCIG cemetery. Once trained, students are responsible for data collection and proper documentation.