Is it okay to bring tools to a cemetery to dig out a grave marker?
February 22, 2016 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Is it okay to bring tools to a cemetery to dig out a grave marker?

I believe that the grave markers of some of my ancestors have sunken into the ground and are grown over with grass. I have a very specific map from the cemetery office showing where the grave markers should be, but nothing is there. Is it normal to bring tools to the cemetery to try to clear the growth off the markers? It's not like they are only sort of grown over--there really is no evidence that they are there. I think I would need to poke around with something until I felt the marker, then do a bit of digging. Is this normal? Or would people think I was a vandal?
posted by foxinthesnow to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think this could vary widely. Have you asked the management for permission?
posted by jon1270 at 7:28 PM on February 22, 2016

I have not, but the web site says that maintenance of graves is the family's responsibility.
posted by foxinthesnow at 7:32 PM on February 22, 2016

If there's a cemetery office, then check with them. Also, make sure you clarify that there were markers there at one time. The office may have the record of the burial, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there should be a marker.

If this is a rural cemetery where no one is around and likely to notice, and I was sure there was a marker at some point, I would totally poke into the ground and see if I could find it.
posted by donajo at 7:37 PM on February 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

I used to assign/sell plots and do some burial-related admin duties as part of an office manager job. It is often very difficult to ascertain exactly who is in charge at an old cemetery, so I feel you. I would, however, err on the side of extreme caution here and (at least) get written permission from the people who now purport to be in charge. Not because the legal consequences are so dire...I don't know what they are in your locality...but for every other obvious reason. Including: what if the map is wrong and you're disturbing someone else's ancestors? What if there are 2 burials there and you're disturbing one extra unrelated burial? What if there wasn't a marker and, you know... I recommend instead putting up a new marker if this is important to you. Shop around for something reasonable.
posted by 8603 at 8:33 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Or to answer as asked, sorry: No, this is not normal. Yes, people would think you are a vandal.
posted by 8603 at 8:37 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well, if there's a cemetery office, there should be someone you can ask to make sure there really should be markers there.

If they say yes, I'd take that as permission to go poke around with a metal chopstick or something, and if I found good evidence of a marker, then a small drywall knife or something to neatly remove some grass.

You usually ARE responsible for the upkeep of your family graves, My grandma used to occasionally take a small edger to chop some of the grass away from the low-sunk headstone of my grandpa, and she'd take stuff to wash the headstone in the spring. Bringing tools shouldn't be a huge problem.

I don't know where you're from, but "ancestors" means older graves to me, especially if you think something has sunk into the grass, and I think it was pretty unusual to use flush style headstones until more recently. I know where my dad's father was buried in the early 50s, and went looking for it one day, and couldn't find anything. I thought, like you, that maybe it had been stolen or sunken or something. Anyways, turns out it was just an unmarked grave, because my grandma was a widow with 4 children and didn't have any money for a headstone. We only found that out when a ww2 veteran's association contacted my dad a couple years ago to get permission to have a headstone made for his grave. So the plot was marked on the map, because my grandpa did own it, but was unmarked.
posted by euphoria066 at 9:08 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is it normal to bring tools to the cemetery to try to clear the growth off the markers?

Absolutely normal for old/neglected cemeteries. Do some general maintenance first if needed. But I agree you could start looking without disturbing any soil by trying to gently slide in long tent stakes where you think the markers may be. I can't think of what anyone would believe you're vandalizing by doing that. Be gentle if you do any digging and use a small implement.
posted by zennie at 4:03 AM on February 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

My wife and I routinely bring a small spade to her parent's graves to remove grass and dirt from the small urn which holds flowers. The cemetery does a good job of trimming around the head stones, but if they didn't we would also probably bring some small clippers. No one has every questioned us or even looked twice.

I agree with the above posters that it would be best to check with the cemetery office first, as they may have a maintenance person who could assist you. But if there is none or they can't be reached, I think you'll be fine as long as you are respectful to the nearby graves.
posted by malocchio at 7:13 AM on February 23, 2016

Do a little research on the proper way to clean headstones beforehand, I know the volunteer group who restore stones around here have warned about damage from improper cleaning.
posted by momus_window at 8:03 AM on February 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Just one more post, sorry. The line IMHO is DIGGING. Scraping, weeding, poking, all good, but once you start DIGGING, it's a no. Written permission from the REAL controlling entity, that's another matter.
posted by 8603 at 12:18 PM on February 23, 2016

It is okay to bring tools to a cemetery to dig out a grave marker.

In the United States, it is pretty traditional to maintain flowers around headstones. Granted, public cemetaries are more reasonable about this tradition. Many private cemetaries have more strict rules even going so far as allowing only plastic flowers that are not too large. Check the rules at the management office.
posted by JJ86 at 1:28 PM on February 23, 2016

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