Cemeteries and Private Property

January 13, 2011

house history, pets

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. šŸ˜€

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.


Utica, NY's largest cemetery was established only in 1850.

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.

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5 Responses to “Cemeteries and Private Property”

  1. lin Says:

    I think you have to be careful on what size pet you bury here too as our lots are tiny. I have a whole hamster/fish burial plot in the landscaping in the front of my house. I feel sorry for whoever buys this place and wants to replace the landscaping some day! šŸ˜‰

    • Mrs. Mecomber Says:

      Lin– just make sure you allow an egress for the hamster/fish next of kin! šŸ˜‰

      We bury our pets in the back, but we have a water problem here (high water table). It gives me the heebie-jeebies to think of all that water coursing through the pets’ graves, down to the creek where the kids play in the water…. *shudder*

  2. Marg Says:

    That is interesting. I have a friend whose husband was killed in a car accident and she buried him on her property and had to go through a bunch of red tape to do it. I have buried all my animals on my property but never asked. Hope they don’t come after me.

    • Mrs. Mecomber Says:

      Marg, even here in New York State, we have buried our pets on our properties. So I don’t think you’re likely to see the SWAT Team descend on you (here’s hoping).

      Yeah, I’ll bet there was a LOT of red tape for your poor friend!

  3. Jim Says:

    Actually there is a website that has catalogued all the private cemeteries in Greene County even detailing the condition they are in .