potter's field

Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.

A potter's field is place of burial for people within a community who die and are unknown and without kin; or for those who are poor and without the resources for paid burial. The term derives from the Bible and refers to a field that of such poor quality it is suitable for nothing but making potter's clay. Perhaps the most famous potter's field is Arlington National Cemetery, in Washington D.C., which started out as a potter's field during the Civil War. In some cases the potter's field may be adjacent or in close proximity to a regular cemetery; or it may be in a place specifically set apart. Potter's fields may also be found in close proximity to mental institutions, orphanages, or other institutions that did not have their own cemeteries. It's likely that a potter's field would have been neglected and headstones, if present at all, would be rustic or made by hand.

The greatest challenge for researchers is the severe lack of information about those buried in a potter's field. The records of some institutions may indicate when and where an inmate was buried. The existence of a potter's field within a community may often be determined through local area research.

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