Genealogists are used to reading all sorts of horrific stories about the damage the march of time does to our history. Every time we turn around, there is another story of town records being destroyed, cemeteries being plowed over, and other damage. Many of these stories end up in our weekly roundup of news published on Fridays. How nice, then, to see a story with a different kind of ending. A few weeks back, we included a story from Missippi about grave discoveries. Now comes more information.
The Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum was opened on January 8, 1855, in Jackson. During the Civil War, General Sherman took over the institution. After the war, African-Americans started being admitted. In 1900 the Asylum was renamed the Mississippi State Insane Hospital, and in 1930 it was replaced by the Mississippi State Hospital.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center was founded in 1955 in the state capitol of Jackson, and located on the former site of the asylum. Since that time, during various construction projects, the UMMC has discovered unmarked graves on the site. In each case, they carefully relocated the remains to the official cemetery area of the site.
In the 1990s, 66 coffins were discovered during a road improvement project. The UMMC partnered with the Cobb Institute for Archaeology at Mississippi State University to document the graves and relocate them to the cemetery.
Archaeologists have learned much. Most were interred with no personal items. They were buried without clothes, sometimes in shrouds and sometimes not. All of this indicates the bodies being linked to the asylum. They have been dated to the 1920s, relatively late in the history of the institution.
Recently, however, during surveys for a major expansion to the facility, workers discovered more burials. More than they originally conceived. Using ground-penetrating radar, more than 1,000 burials were found on the southern end of the property, and the same number of burials on the northern side.
It would cost millions of dollars to relocate that many remains, so the UMMC has placed their expansion on hold for the moment. But the archaeological research continues. And genealogists are now getting into the game, wondering what might have happened to relatives at the asylum. Working together, they are trying to identify remains and what happened to the inmate, often too poor for their families to claim them after death.
No matter the reasons, it is heartening to see a large institution working to preserve history. You can read more about the story at CNN in University is Digging into Mississippi’s Past with a Long Forgotten Graveyard or visit the Mississippi State Asylum Cemetery Project.