UB to hold re-burial ceremony for remains uncovered by construction

After a decade of research, UB anthropologists to memorialize remains


The lives of those buried in the Erie County Poorhouse Cemetary from the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century will be commemorated on Oct. 11 at 11 a.m. in the Newman Center. The ceremony culminates nearly a decade’s worth of research into the remains of 372 persons buried in the cemetery on Bailey Avenue.

A group of UB anthropologists headed by Doug Perrelli, clinical assistant professor and director of UB’s nonprofit Archaeological Survey and Joyce E. Sirianni, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, studied the remains of the people buried in the Poorhouse Cemetary for the past nine years.

The community-wide effort produced an immense body of research; several students received Ph.Ds and masters degrees through this project, according to a UB news release.

The project began in 2008 when a group of construction workers discovered human remains from the former Erie County Poorhouse, which was situated on the border of Bailey Avenue, now part of UB’s South Campus. The poorhouse was refuge to many of Buffalo’s poor and middle class families at various times from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.

Perrelli and Sirianni lead the task of disinterring the human remains and monitoring construction in the area to ensure respectful, complete removal of all individuals’ remains. They then provided public outreach, from student engagement to new courses, book chapters and symposiums.

From the onset of the project, Perelli and Sirianni’s chief goal was to restore identity to these people that had been lost and forgotten over time.

“We demanded they be respected and that we not forget them,” Sirianni said. “They were kind of forgotten for a long time. The right thing to do when you remove them from their graves is to rebury them with the dignity that they deserve.”

They were not able to name the bodies as they originally hoped, but the team was able to produce biological profiles of the deceased, looking at their age, gender and ancestry. Their work included skeletal analysis, demographics, causes of death and disease identification.

In some cases, the anthropologists were able to determine religious affiliation and occupation based on various markers.

Sirianni said this opportunity is unlike any other.

“It’s very rare that you have that many individuals and we knew quite a bit about them in terms of this great historical record but it doesn’t tell you anything about these 372 folks,” Sirianni said. “They’re all unmarked graves.”

This project was helped further by a group of community experts which included the Erie Niagara Funeral Directors Association, Stone Art Memorial, Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Buffalo, the Wilbert Vault Company and the New York State Division of Cemeteries.

A funeral procession will leave the Newman Center at UB, 495 Skinnersville Road, Amherst and will proceed directly to a private burial service at 1 p.m. at Assumption Cemetery in Grand Island, NY.

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com