NGE >> The Arts >> Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Historic Preservation >> Preservation Tools of the Trade >> Cemetery Preservation
Laws are in place that prohibit disturbing human remains and associated burial objects, and violators may face fines and even felony charges. Once a grave is damaged or destroyed, however,
Often the best protection for a cemetery comes from the local community, and that protection should start with maintenance. Concern for restoring and maintaining historic cemeteries is mounting across Georgia as more previously unknown graves come to light because of increasing development in rural areas. In cemetery restoration both money and manpower become critical issues. The principal, most viable force for cemetery care is the effort of descendants or concerned community members themselves. They are the most effective caregivers and protectors of any private cemetery. It is a role long played in the South—those who have loved ones or ancestors in a cemetery carry on the responsibility of taking care of those cemeteries.
The state government cannot take over the upkeep or provide money for repairs and continuous maintenance of a graveyard, nor can a private organization do so under most circumstances. Even local governments are unable to take on this responsibility unless the city or county owns the cemetery. If family members are not available, then a local nonprofit organization, such as a historical society or a genealogical society,
In addition to providing maintenance, families and others often are interested in recording the information a cemetery holds. Publication of the tombstone inscriptions in many Georgia counties has been one way, if done properly and accurately, to record and preserve the information in a cemetery and provide proof of its existence. Making photographs, and if possible a video recording, will enhance the record of the cemetery and be a good reference for future repair projects.
A number of Georgia counties have benefited from the efforts of organizations or individuals who have worked to identify, record, and publish information on their county's cemeteries. For example, the Gwinnett Historical Society in Gwinnett County has been one of the most active groups in its continued efforts to identify and record all cemeteries within the county's boundaries. The society published a book documenting marked burials and known cemeteries, and placed a map at the county courthouse marking these locations. Other counties, such as Cobb, have cemetery commissions that work closely with county planning, zoning, and permitting boards to ensure that the cemeteries are protected when land-use decisions are made.
African American cemeteries in Georgia are being preserved in a variety of ways. The city cemeteries
People think of cemeteries as being the permanent resting place of the dead, but occasions do arise when they must be moved because of development or other unavoidable impacts. If a cemetery must be relocated, Georgia law clearly states specific procedures to be followed. The complex and somewhat lengthy process is to be carried out under a permit issued by the local government. The procedures require the expertise of several different professionals, as well as the participation of any descendants who can be located. As Georgia continues to attract new industry and new residents, grave relocation may become the single most critical issue to cemetery caregivers and descendants in the twenty-first century.
Ted O. Brooke, The Cemetery Book: Cemetery Preservation, Restoration, and Recording (Atlanta: Georgia Genealogical Society, 1989).
Sybil F. Crawford, The Association for Gravestone Studies' Guide to Forming a "Cemetery Friends" Organization (Greenfield, Mass.: Association for Gravestone Studies, 1995).
Mary-Ellen Jones, Photographing Tombstones: Equipment and Techniques, American Association for State and Local History Technical Leaflet, no. 92 (Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1977).
Lance R. Mayer, "The Care of Old Cemeteries and Gravestones," Markers: The Annual Journal of the Association of Gravestone Studies 1 (1980).
Lynette Strangstad, A Graveyard Preservation Primer (Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1988).
Christine Van Voorhies, Grave Intentions: A Comprehensive Guide to Preserving Historic Cemeteries in Georgia (Atlanta: Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division, 2003).
Kenneth H. Thomas Jr., Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division
Christine Van Voorhies, Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division
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