County officials were given permission to remove the bodies and the plain pine coffins that contain them to complete a building project on the hospital campus, officials said.
Efforts will be made to identify the remains and locate any family members, but those who cannot be identified after at least 30 days will be cremated and disposed of according to standard county procedures for unclaimed bodies. The graveyard, which dates to a period between 1875 and 1935, appears to be a "potter's field" where unidentified and indigent patients were buried.
"We are committed to handling the remains at the potter's field in a respectful and dignified manner," said George Shirakawa, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
The graveyard, which was discovered in February by a construction worker doing grading work behind the main hospital, is estimated to contain as many as 1,445 graves, according to hospital officials.
Hospital maps dated to 1932 show the cemetery, but by 1958 it was no longer marked on maps and by 1966 an employee parking lot had been built on the site.
Hospital staff members have searched for records that would reveal who is buried in the graveyard, but so far none have been found. County records of hospital deaths from 1925 to 1940 do not indicate who is buried in the cemetery or in the particular coffins slated for removal.
County officials plan to check for any identifying information when they remove the bodies and will contact surviving family members where appropriate.
"Unfortunately, the lack of information about who may be buried in the cemetery not only limits our ability to identify the remains, but is also makes this a very lengthy process for potential identification of the 100 individuals' remains," Deputy County Counsel Michael Rossi said.
"Due to the age and condition of these remains, it may not be possible to identify many of them," Rossi said.
Anyone who believes they may have a relative buried at the potter's field should contact the county by Aug. 1 by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (408) 299-5192. Those calling should provide information about themselves and the deceased including full name and address or phone number, relationship to the deceased, the gender, age, race and date of birth of the deceased and date of death where known.
Any supporting documents that might help with identification would also be helpful.