The deterioration and disappearance of cemeteries is too common of a problem. Particularly in rural areas, small settlement and family cemeteries are often on private land and fall forgotten as deeds change hands, crops are planted, and families move on or die out. If known they often go untended, or become the targets of bored kids on a Friday night. One way or another, these small but significant sites become the stuff of lore, their locales becoming increasingly illusive as the years roll on.
Country cemeteries aren’t the only ones in danger. City cemeteries don’t often disappear, but they’re just as susceptible to time and vandalism as rural cemeteries. And instead of being so small that they vanish, city cemeteries are often so large that they are difficult to maintain.
No matter where you are, it’s amazing how much cemeteries tell us about a place and the people who lived there. Placement of cemeteries can indicate early settlement or city development. Headstones provide not just names and dates, but often religious affiliations, veterans’ status, fraternal membership, hobbies, and more.
Documenting and preserving these sites is extremely important and I’m fortunate enough to help the cause. If you know of some cemeteries off the beaten path, or even happen to have one on your own land, let someone know! (Your state archaeologist, DNR, SHPO, local historical society, or preservation organization, just to name a few…) And for you urban dwellers, if you notice those sinking stones as you pass the city cemetery on your way to work every day, see if there’s something you can do to help.