Did you know that in some municipalities, it is perfectly legal to use a portion of your property as a private family cemetery? I can’t remember where I read that last year, but I remember reading it, and being surprised. Some states are developing more stringent laws about burials on private lands. In early America, families usually buried their relatives on a small plot in a woodsy area. Here in my area of New York, I can immediately think of dozens of such small private cemeteries on private lands, dating way back to the late 1700s. Some of those old headstones tell amazing stories on them.
Did you know that, in many states, if you are a property owner with a private cemetery, you must allow for easement for family members of the deceased to visit their buried kin, if their family is buried on your land? A Virginia statute reads:
Owners of private property on which a cemetery or graves are located shall have a duty to allow ingress and egress to the cemetery or graves by (i) family members and descendants of deceased persons buried there; (ii) any cemetery plot owner; (iii) any person engaging in genealogy research, who has given reasonable notice to the owner of record or to the occupant of the property or both. The landowner may designate the frequency of access, hours and duration of the access and the access route if no traditional access route is obviously visible by view of the property. The landowner, in the absence of gross negligence or willful misconduct, shall be immune from liability in any civil suit, claim, action, or cause of action arising out of the access granted pursuant to this section.
I’m glad I saw that statute, as I often visit cemeteries for my genealogical research. The fear of trespassing often kept me from seeing the headstones; now I know.
Obviously, as the country industrialized and developed, fewer families placed their deceased relatives on their private property. Cemeteries were built, either by churches or the state, or by wealthy individuals who dedicated land for the citizens. Burials are expensive, though. Most “normal” folks would have had to hawk their stuff to afford a plot and a funeral. I don’t know when funeral insurance was invented (probably about the same time other insurances were invented?). In this area, the wealthy mucky-mucks must have had some very fine Insurance, because some of their burial sites are of Egyptian pharaoh proportions. Forest Hill Cemetery and the cemetery at Hamilton College hold some of the wealthiest and brightest people of history: Elihu Root, Samuel Kirkland, Roscoe Conking, James Schoolcraft Sherman, etc.
Anyway, as far as I know, most municipalities allow property owners to bury their pets on their own lands. But if you want to start your own private cemetery, it’s best to check with your local codes department, first. If allowed, they may require you to get a survey of your property or draw a map of the location of the plot on your land. And many states require that you allow family visitors to the site.