Who Takes Care of Our Historic Cemeteries?

The following information has been provided by Johanna Yaun, Orange County Historian.

Here in the Orange County Historian's office, we receive a surprising number of questions regarding cemeteries. Every week we hear about a hiker stumbling upon an overgrown family plot in the woods, a church congregation struggling to maintain their graveyard, or an inquiry about the legality surrounding these sacred lands. Growing up in Orange County, I remember wondering why the Woodbury Commons shopping center had a cemetery island in the parking lot and as a college student, I learned about the excavation of an African- American cemetery behind the Broadway School.  Now, as County Historian, I led tours of St. George's Cemetery in Newburgh to help raise awareness and funds for the upkeep and was surprised to learn that I could still buy a plot in this historic cemetery.  In fact, the only source of funding for many of the church cemeteries in the area, like the Presbyterian graveyard in Circleville, is the sale of new plots.  Many have come up with creative solutions to supplement those limited funds such as the Washingtonville cemetery where the Village Historian Linda Standish has worked with members of the community to create lantern tours that weave visitors through the grave stones to learn about the people buried there.

With so much interest in the topic, we reached out to Marianne Greenfield, the Town Historian of Delhi, a 20-year member and past board officer of the Association for Gravestone Studies, to host a lecture on maintaining historic cemeteries.  Marianne is a frequent presenter on the topic of cemetery preservation for groups across the Hudson Valley such as the NYS Association of Cemeteries, NY Historical Societies, the DAR as well as area libraries, and rotary clubs; she also runs her own cemetery cleaning business.  Her information is invaluable, and the event was a so successful, that we've scheduled Marianne to host a few hands-on cemetery cleanup workshops around the County in 2017.

Our records here in the Goshen office are sadly incomplete, and we worked with an intern over the summer to compile data from the Genealogical Society, Veterans organizations and the County's Real Property department. Our intern, Kevin Teel, was able to create a list of over 350 cemeteries in the County.  Notes left here by former County Historian Ted Sly, show that he estimated over 800 while Linda Burroughs Village Historian of Monroe has informed us that new research puts the number closer to 900.

The responsibility of caring for our historic and active cemeteries in Orange County varies from private landowners, to churches, to Friends groups, to municipalities. There's a law in place that requires Towns to care for abandoned cemeteries

but this law does not require more than a minimal amount of lawn care. As we have called upon experts and researched the topic here in the Historian's office, we have discovered that the topics surrounding the ethics, legality, maintenance methods and research potential are vast.

This rather detailed edition of our newsletter shares some of our research with you. And believe us, there's even more to come.

Sincerely, 

Johanna Yaun, Orange County Historian

Available from the Association of State & Local History

This technical leaflet bundle offers information on photographing, transcribing, preserving, and interpreting cemeteries. Often we have good intentions but don't know where to start or what needs to be done. This bundle discusses how to preserve the information that a cemetery contains and the basic preservation of the cemetery itself. The bundle includes information on conducting walking tours, a main-stay of cemetery preservation associations, and instructions on how to present the not-so-nice history that ultimately ends up in a cemetery. 

Includes the following Technical Leaflets: TL 242A - Preserving Historic Cemeteries TL 009 - Cemetery Transcribing: Preparations and Procedures TL 092 - Photographing Tombstones: Equipment and Techniques TL 255 - Interpreting Difficult Knowledge TL 194 - A Different Path for Historic Walking Tour

 

FAQ's from the New York Association of Cemeteries

Q: How are cemeteries in New York State structured?

Over 1,900 cemeteries in New York are set up as not-for-profit organizations and report to the Division of Cemeteries. More than 4,000 other cemeteries are religious or municipal operations and are not regulated by the Division of Cemeteries.
Q: What is the New York State Cemetery Board and what do they do?

The Cemetery Board is made up of representatives from the office of the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Health. The Board's function is to oversee the operation of the NYS Division of Cemeteries and to administer NYS Cemetery Law. The Board also approves all rules, regulations and service fees charged by not-for-profit cemeteries in the state.
Q: Where can I find the rules and regulations of a cemetery?

All regulated cemeteries must have their rules and regulations available to the public in their office. The rules and regulations are also given when a person buys cemetery property.

Tips from the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Advice from Cemetery Protection Resource Training Alliance

5 Free Things Anyone Can Do To Save Historic Cemeteries

Across the country, grassroots organizations are springing up in small towns and in big cities to take care of historic cemeteries. Those burial plots along the road, in someone's backyard, or connected to an old church are often not maintained, the occupants' relatives having moved on long ago. But cemeteries are part of our collective history, and their gravestones tell stories of people who once lived, worked, and loved, memorialized by a few carved sentences.

Information from PBS

Cemetery Educators Guide

 

Different types of cemeteries

The church cemetery - Often located near the church and is private church property.

The public cemetery - Owned by a town, city or county and open to the public.

The private cemetery - Owners and/or caretakers are usually listed at the cemetery entrance. This restrictive cemetery could be owned and operated by a lodge, a community organization, the military, or a specific family.

The ethnic cemetery - Could be private or public and overlap one of the other types but owned and operated to support one religion.

The mass grave - A common grave for a group of people, often victims of a disaster.

Commercial cemetery - These are for profit and are nondenominational.

Top 10 Cemeteries to Visit

Many of the world's most storied graveyards offer respite-and rewards-for the living too. Headstones, crypts, and landscapes divulge clues into the spirit of a place and its people. At these famous cemeteries, dig past the spooky surface to find a repository enlivened by the legends of the characters buried below.

Seven Cemeteries Stranded in Parking Lots

For most people parking lots are no slice of heaven and can sometimes seem worse than any circle of hell, but for others these concrete sprawls are where they spend their eternities. While most cemeteries are constructed as a sacred space separating the worlds of the living and the dead, these two worlds collide when a final resting place is in the path of progress. With much of their surroundings of statues and greenery replaced by hood ornaments and hubcaps, these stranded grave sites stand as a stark reminder of a nearly forgotten and paved-over past.

What Happens When A City Runs Out Of Room For Its Dead? 

"If you want to go out and start your own cemetery" in the UK, says Alison Killing, "you kind of can." She thinks a lot about where we die and are buried - and in this talk, the architect and TED Fellow offers an eye-opening economic and social perspective on an overlooked feature of our towns and cities: the cemetery. Speaking specifically to UK laws, she unpacks the fascinating, sometimes funny, often contradictory laws about where you can be buried.

For most people parking lots are no slice of heaven and can sometimes seem worse than any circle of hell, but for others these concrete sprawls are where they spend their eternities. While most cemeteries are constructed as a sacred space separating the worlds of the living and the dead, these two worlds collide when a final resting place is in the path of progress. With much of their surroundings of statues and greenery replaced by hood ornaments and hubcaps, these stranded grave sites stand as a stark reminder of a nearly forgotten and paved-over past.

What Happens When A City Runs Out Of Room For Its Dead? 

"If you want to go out and start your own cemetery" in the UK, says Alison Killing, "you kind of can." She thinks a lot about where we die and are buried - and in this talk, the architect and TED Fellow offers an eye-opening economic and social perspective on an overlooked feature of our towns and cities: the cemetery. Speaking specifically to UK laws, she unpacks the fascinating, sometimes funny, often contradictory laws about where you can be buried.

Cemeteries Have Great Stories To Tell

A visit to a cemetery can provide a wealth of family history information, but it can be much more than that. A 20-minute walk through any cemetery will provide you access to family stories. Parents who lived long, full lives. Others who died much too young. Babies, some just one day old. Some who were never born. John and Jane Does, victims of murder. And in many older cemeteries, some of the departed rest with no visible monuments. Their markers were damaged or swallowed up in soft ground or by encroaching woods.

Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries

Before 1831, America had no cemeteries. It's not that Americans didn't bury their dead-just that large, modern graveyards did not exist. But with the construction of Mount Auburn Cemetery, a large burial ground in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the movement to build cemeteries in America began.