Q. I discovered an abandoned cemetery in Iredell County, NC. I was able to make sure the cemetery will be preserved despite plans to build homes on the site. Since the cemetery is in a gated community, what rights do relatives have to visit the graves?
A. Although North Carolina already had a bill in place governing cemeteries (including abandoned ones), the legislature passed Article 12 in February 2007 to clarify issues regarding abandoned and neglected cemeteries. Three clauses are of special interest to genealogists:
• 65-91: This allows any person or organization to donate up to $5,000 to the clerk of the county’s superior court to maintain the cemetery or a specific grave.
• 65-102 and 65-103: These clauses specify the conditions under which you may enter an abandoned or neglected cemetery with or without permission of the property owner. If you have consent and you’re a descendant of a person whose remains you believe to be interred there, or a descendant’s designee, or another person with a “special interest in the grave or abandoned public cemetery,” you may enter private property to “discover, restore, maintain, or visit a grave or abandoned public cemetery.”
If you don’t have consent from the property owner but can prove you meet the criteria above, you can petition the county court for an order to enter the property for the stated purposes. You must show the visit wouldn’t unreasonably interfere with landowner’s enjoyment of his property.
The clerk also can specify restrictions on visits, such as the dates and hours you may enter the property, or the route you must take when entering and exiting. To learn more about these North Carolina laws, see <ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/statutes/statutestoc.pl?chapter=0065> and <ncga.state.nc.us/sessions/2007/bills/house/html/h107v1.html>.
Many states have similar laws governing access to cemeteries on private property. Learn about them by searching the legislature’s Web site (link to yours at <ncsl.org/public/leglinks.cfm>) or contacting your state representative.
From the November 2007 issue of Family Tree Magazine.