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Do Cemeteries Keep Records?
By Steve Johnson
June 17, 2021
Yes, all cemeteries keep records. The more difficult question is where are these records being kept. In the case with old cemeteries, particularly small rural ones, finding these records is tough. This is because ownership of the cemetery had changed hands so many times, along with their records.
Oro Grande Cemetery, Oro Grande, CA
Each cemetery is owned by someone or some organization. That owner creates a record each time a new burial is added. That record could be as simple as a journal entry or as complex as a file folder of papers.
Knowing who owns the cemetery is the first step towards finding out where these records are kept.
How to Find the Owner of a Cemetery
n the United States, land ownership records are kept at the county level. Find out what county the cemetery is located in, then access that county's parcel records. Parcel records are usually stored with the County Assessor or County Recorder. This will show you the name of the person or organization who owns it. In many cases, you can get their contact information too.
- Note that most counties now have this information online. You can often do a Google search for "xxxxx county gis" (substitute "xxxxx" for the name of the county). Find the result for the County Assessor or Recorder, and click on it. This should take you to a map where you can zoom in and see property lines. Click on where the cemetery is, and it should give you ownership details.
- Many cemetery transcriptions published online already indicate who the owner is. You can do a Google search for that cemetery's name to see if anyone has already published such a transcription.
Contact the Cemetery Sexton
The cemetery sexton is the person in charge of operating a cemetery. With respect to small cemeteries, the sexton does just about everything, including digging the grave, recording the burial, and landscape maintenance.
The sexton will know where the records are being kept.
With respect to inactive cemeteries, you will have to contact the land owner to find out where records are being kept.
Funeral Homes Know Who Run the Cemeteries
Funeral homes all seem to know the persons in charge of any cemetery in their immediate area. If you have trouble finding the owner of a cemetery, you can often contact a funeral in the immediate area and ask if they can help you.
Finding Records of Old Cemeteries
Old inactive cemeteries usually exist on land that has changed ownership numerous times. Their records often end up in the hands of local historical societies, genealogical societies, or heritage museums. You can always contact these entities to see if they have these records. If not, they can often guide you to whoever has them.
While many churches have a cemetery located adjacent to their grounds, the cemetery is usually not owned by the church. Instead, church members form a separate corporation that serves only the cemetery. This protects the church from liabilities that may arise from the cemetery.
Contacting the church, however, may still direct you to people who hold the records of that cemetery.