After months looking for the final resting place of William Yerks (b. 1801) and his wife Maria (b. 1803), I decided to pursue a lead that I had dismissed long ago because I just couldn’t see how it could be related.
Several years ago, I came across a record at the Find-A-Grave website that listed a William Yerks being buried at “Potter’s Field” in Valhalla. It gave no date of birth or date of death. So, stuck at a brick research wall, I decided to write to the Westchester County Archives to see if they would have any additional information about the people buried at Potter’s field.
There is a William yerks buried in Potters Field in Valhalla. Can you tell me whether there are any records for Potters Field that might provide me with date of death or other info? Apparently he is buried in Row I , a double grave that is shared with Isaac Stokes .If you think you may have records, I will come down from Connecticut to research him if necessary.Thanks.Phil Hayes
A short time later Jackie, from the County Archives, wrote back to me.
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. We have very little on Potters Field, unfortunately. As it was connected to the county Almshouse, that would be the place to look. From the index, I see there was a William Yerks who passed away in the Almshouse in 1876. He was from Mount Pleasant, and was 75 years old. If that sounds like your man, you are welcome to come in to see the record; we’re open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9-4. The amount of information is in these Almshouse records varies, some are very sketchy, and some have a decent amount of detail. It depends on who was keeping the records.
I was already interested in the Almshouse because Armenia Yerks, daughter of the William Yerks that I was looking for, showed up in the 1900 Census there. Now I also had a William Yerks who was within the same age range as the one I was looking for.
So yesterday, I once again made the trip to the Archives in Elmsford,NY. Jackie immediately remembered me and my request. She quickly guided me to an index that was compiled by a volunteer that lists the names of “inmates” of the Almshouse Institution. I immediately recognized several names in the index.
Some of the microfilms that held the records were missing, so Jackie brought out the original ledgers for the first couple of records I wanted to looked up. I was allowed to photograph the records I was interested in. I printed the others from the Microfilm viewer/printer. Here is a summary of what I discovered.
William Yerks was a 75 year old male who was admitted to the Almshouse on May 5, 1876. It lists him as a widower, but I believe that is simply an error. He and his father were listed as being born in Mount Pleasant which would be consistent with my research. The “habits” of him, his father and mother were “temperate”, meaning they were not big drinkers. His father’s occupation was a farmer. He has three living children who were all “self supporting”. His existing cause of dependance is listed as “Destitution. He has been receiving public “out-door” support for about three years prior to being admitted. It goes on to indicate that a brother and daughter have also been aided. William died on September 17, 1876, just four months after entering the poor house.
Summary: William’s age would make him born in 1801, which is the exact year we have recorded in our research. In my opinion, there is no doubt that this is the William Yerks I have been looking for and that he is most likely the one buried at Potter’s field. His destitute situation explains why I have not found him buried at any of the normal Yerks burial places. A death date of 1876 would explain why he does not appear in the 1880 US Census.
Mariah (Maria) Yerks is a 76 year old female who was admitted to the Almshouse on May 12, 1878 because she was sick and most likely could not afford care at the nearby hospital. She was born in Greenburg, New York and is now listed as a widow. Her occupation was a housekeeper and her father was a farmer. This Mariah supposedly has six living children, which would make it inconsistent with the information we have about her. This information could simply be a mis-interpretation of the question. Apparently she was so sick that she was unable to perform any manual labor. But according to the records, she was discharged just six days later.
Summary: I am pretty sure that this Mariah is the Maria, wife of the William Yerks mentioned above. Since there are no other “Maria” Yerks found anywhere in the Census prior to 1878, the likelihood that this is her is 99%. The age of this Mariah, places her birth year directly inline with other research I have performed. However, there is some more research that needs to be done. For instance, I have found a Maria Yerks in the 1880 US Census, b. circa 1806, living in Staten Island with a Charles and Mary Yerks. This 1880 Census record indicates that Maria is the mother of Charles. As far as I know, our Maria Yerks did not have a son name Charles. But this move to Staten Island, would explain the May 18, 1878 discharge from the Almshouse.
Widower Ezra Yerks, 57 years old, was admitted to the Almshouse on September 18, 1893. The reason for his admittance was that he was sick. He was born in Pleasantville, NY. He was able to read and write and his occupation was a shoemaker. His parents are listed as deceased and he had one living sister. Ezra Yerks died on November 12,1893.
Summary: I believe this Ezra to be the fourth son of William and Maria Yerks. His age matches +/- 2 years to the Ezra I have been researching. He died in 1893 which explains his disappearance from the Census after 1880. The things that makes me wonder is about his marital status. The Almshouse record indicates that he was a widower. According to the 1880 Census, he was single at the age of 43. Again, this could simply be a clerical mistake, or maybe he got married at a later age.
Ethel Armenia Yerks
Ethel Armenia Yerks is a young child who was originally admitted to the Westchester Almshouse on September 4th, 1896 because of “Destitution”. She was born in Eastview, NY. Both parents are living and she has no brothers or sisters. The record also indicated that her mother is at the same facility. In fact, a comment in the remarks section indicates that she is the child of Theresa Yerks, above.
Summary: I was initially very excited because I thought I had found the Armenia Yerks that was mentioned in the 1900 Census. But after closely looking at the age of this person, it was clear they were not the same person. But the story does not end there…. see the summary for Theresa below.
Theresa Yerks is a twenty year old female who was married when she was admitted on 26 Aug 1896. She was a house wife that was able to read and write. Her father was a shoemaker. The reason that she was admitted to the Almshouse was that she was destitute and pregnant. There are two interesting notes made on her chart. The first is “Notify Richard Nolan of Bedford Station”. The second is in regards to her discharge on July 6, 1899. This note indicates that she was “Taken to home of Refuge for Woman at Hudson”.
Summary: I couldn’t figure out who this Theresa was. I had never heard of her before. So I decided to see if I could find a Theresa Yerks in Census records at Ancestry.com. Within a few keystrokes, I quickly came up with a Theresa Yerks in the 1910, 1920 and 1930 Census married to an Edward F Yerks (b. abt 1875). William Townsend Yerks, son of the William Yerks mentioned above, had a son “Eddie” who I lost track of after the 1880 Census. It is now clear to me that Eddie Yerks married this Theresa and got back together with her when he could. This would explain why the daughters middle name was that of his fathers sister. With a quick query at Fulton Postcards New York Newspaper web site, I found the disturbing story behind Theresa’s admittance to the Almshouse which confirms my research above.
It looks like this branch of the Yerks family tree fell on hard and desperate times between 1870 and 1900. The family had begun to spread out throughout Westchester County, away from the traditional Yerks homesteads located in Mount Pleasant, New York. Remembering that there were no telephones and mail took days to be delivered, I believe it was difficult for family members to know about their relatives needs. And even if they did know, the distances between locations and travel times made it extremely difficult to help each other out. It is sad to know that a Yerks family member is buried at Potter’s field, but I am relieved to know finally what happened to the family as a whole back then. All this being considered, there are still numerous questions which may never be answered.