Is a Historic Cemetery Right for You?

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National Free Planning Kit

September 08, 2015

Although cemetery history is important to preservationists, researchers, genealogists and even tourists, a single national database of cemeteries does not exist.

While there are many websites dedicated to documenting gravesites, the social media and all-volunteer approach has created a patchwork of unverifiable and incomplete information.

In fact, it is not even known how many cemeteries there are in the United States. A very conservative estimate would be about 300,000 based on 100 cemeteries per each of the approximately 3,000 counties in the United States.

The difficulty in documenting cemeteries has a lot to do with the ownership, which can range from a single individual who happened to buy a property containing a private family plot to a corporation with hundreds of cemeteries. Some cemeteries are so old the grave markers are no longer readable or are missing, which makes documentation even more difficult.

Here are six tips for planning a burial in a historic cemetery:

1. Ownership

Perhaps there is an old cemetery near your home, a favorite vacation spot or some other special location that appeals to you for sentimental or aesthetic reasons. The first step to making this your final resting place will be to establish ownership, which in some cases is not always possible.

2. History

Since many cemeteries have been established based on culture, ancestry, religion or another specific affiliation, consider whether you share a connection with those already buried in the cemetery. Research whether it would be appropriate for you to join them or if the cemetery has any restrictions that would prohibit your burial.

3. Memorialization

Study the grave markers and memorials already in the cemetery and consider whether you want and can afford a similar memorial that would be in keeping with the cemetery’s overall historical appearance. Just as museums would not include modern art in their earlier collections, a modern-looking memorial would not be appropriate for a historic cemetery.

4. Maintenance

Be sure to research the perpetual care provisions for the cemetery. Vandalism and neglect are often problematic for old or built-out cemeteries when there are few if any burial plots left to sell.

5. Location

Some old cemeteries, such as those in New Orleans, have become major tourist attractions. Consider whether your loved ones would be OK with having dozens or even hundreds of tourists, who may not always be respectful, strolling past them when they visit your grave.

 6. Purchase

If you are satisfied with the results of your cemetery search, schedule an appointment with a prearrangement burial counselor at the cemetery or through Once you have selected a gravesite, be sure to finalize the purchase to lock in the current price and prevent it from being sold to someone else.