How to Preserve a Historic Cemetery

What steps should I take to preserve a historic cemetery?

There are six steps to preserve a historic cemetery. Additional information is contained in the AHPP's cemetery preservation manual Grave Concerns.

1)  Organize your efforts

  • Locate and obtain written permission from the owner. If the owner can not be found, petition the quorum court for permission to conduct work at the cemetery.
  • Conduct research on the site to see what is currently known about your cemetery.
  • Form a group of volunteers, a cemetery association or join forces with an established organization such as a historical society.
  • Define goals and create a plan of action.
  • Become familiar with the laws for historic cemeteries.

Old Corinth Cemetery

2)  Document your historic cemetery through survey forms, photographs, and maps.

  • Perform a general survey that documents the overall site, recording location, site boundaries, major site features, and provides a historical overview.
  • Conduct an individual marker survey to record a detailed description of each site feature found in a historic cemetery.
  • A condition survey is a before-and after record that should be created whenever work is performed on a site feature, such as cleaning or repair.
  • A vegetation survey is important in identifying historic plantings that are part of the cemetery landscape.
  • Specialized surveys to determine property boundaries and locate lost markers should be carried out as needed. In the future, the records created during the survey process may be all that remains of a historic burial ground.

3)  Conduct research to learn more about the history and importance of your cemetery.

  • Select a focus for research such as a person buried at the site, the cemetery itself or on a monument carver.
  • Look at primary resources, such as personal papers or public documents, to develop the story of your site.
  • Look at secondary resources, such as books or websites, to help place your cemetery in a historical context.
  • Compile the information and write an analysis.
  • Store materials in a conservationally sound area.
  • Develop a policy for use of information by public.
  • File information with appropriate organizations.

4)  Clean and maintain your historic cemetery using the greatest care and proper tools, materials, and techniques.

  • If the site has been abandoned, an initial clean-up will be necessary. Take care not to remove or damage cemetery site features.
  • When cleaning markers and other site features of biological growths, dirt and debris, use water and a soft bristle brush. Never use household cleaners, abrasive tools or power washers to clean a marker.
  • Hire a conservator to repair cracked, chipped and broken monuments.
  • Perform regular maintenance using caution near gravemarkers and other site features.

5)  Raise funds through one or more of the following methods.

  • Request donations.
  • Stage events, create products or offer services.
  • Apply for grant funds from private and public sources.
  • Seek government assistance.
  • Ask corporations for contributions.
  • Seek gifts, and establish endowments, legacies, and bequests.

Old Washington Presbyterian Cemetery

6)  Create awareness products and programs to insure that others understand the importance of the cemetery. Offer well-planned educational experiences and materials that take into account the irreplaceable landscape and relative's feelings. Many awareness activities can be used to generate funds for preservation projects.

  • Tours
  • Special events
  • Projects
  • Materials
  • Products

For more information or to order AHPP cemetery preservation information, email