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Saving private graves - a learning curve.

Discussion in 'Comments on the latest newsletter' started by Teri, Mar 30, 2021.

  1. Teri

    Teri Genealogy in the Sunshine 2015

    I have just read the article Peter published today (well I got it today) from June about her family graves. I too have the responsibility for family graves. The first step was in 2006 when I too had started investigating my family. I knew that my dad used to send flowers to my aunt for her to place on gran's grave each year on Mothering Sunday, but had no idea where the grave was, it could have been in Eglwysian or Caerphilly. My aunt was not well enough to be able to tell me but my cousin (one of her daughters) used to accompany her and knew it was one in Caerphilly. Between us we decided the next time we got together (she still lives in Glamorgan) we would try to trace it down.

    True to our word the next time I went down to see her we made the time to go to Penyrheol Cemetery, Caerphilly. She was still not sure when we got there where it was, just remembered it was near the tree on the right of the car park. However, a couple of council workers were at the cemetery checking headstone safety, and they asked if they could help. When I explained we were trying to find our grand parents' graves they suggested I call their office and took a note of what plot they gave me and when they came back about an hour later they would show me where it was. I called and when the bereavement section called back they also called one of their workers in the cemetery and provided the plot number to him, so he came and found us and showed us exactly where it was. Of course there was no headstone, these were miners and could not afford a headstone, when my grandfather died it was the result of a mining accident so my gran had 6 children to bring up on her own.

    I was so impressed with the help we received that I wrote to the council complimenting the staff concerned and asked if they could confirm my father's twin was buried with his parents. When they replied I found there was another grave, that none of us living relatives knew about, where my uncles (three of them), a cousin (of 10 hours old) and gt grandfather were buried. I decided to ask if I could erect headstones on the graves, but as I was not the owner I did have to go through a legal process. My grandfather had brought one grave, where my uncles, cousin and gt grandfather were laid to rest, and my grandmother the other. In addition as one of my uncles was alive, as was my aunt (and four older cousins) at the time, I needed to ask their permission. Once I had that I had to go in front of a magistrate to swear I had permission from my live older relatives and would take the appropriate responsibility on. A very strange process.

    Like June the council were helpful in putting me in touch with suitable companies that knew the rules of the cemetery on what could and could not be erected. The company I chose even asked me if they could send me photos of the work as they knew I did not live locally. Unfortunately in 2009 I needed to give permission for my aunt to be added to the grave with my grandparents, which of course I did, and again as the owner the masons provided proof of the adjustment to the headstone, even though I was not paying.

    I suspect most of my family graves will be unmarked, none of my ancestors had money to mark a grave, even if they could afford one. I know my mother struggled when my father died to mark where his ashes were interned, but after a few years I received a bonus and spent most of it on a stone to mark his grave. Just coming up to 6 years ago we added my mum to the plot and stone. That was painful, I did not need to go to a magistrate but as my mother paid for the plot Spelthorne Council charged me nearly £1,000 to transfer the ownership to me so we could bury mum's ashes with dad, where she wanted to be. I was an executor but the cost was hard to take at the time. If we had known when my dad died, my sister or I would have registered the grave so mum could just be added. Something for people to think about now, not when you are dealing with loss.

    Who owns your nearest and dearest's plot?
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 31, 2021
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  2. canadianbeth

    canadianbeth LostCousins Member

    Only my Dad has a headstone and it is actually flat. He is buried in the Veterans' Section in Toronto. I have a picture of it, taken when my husband and I visited back in 1997. It was in the back row towards trees and was so overgrown that we had to ask directions to find it and then clean it before I could take the picture. I knew it existed as I had a previous picture of my mother sitting beside it. My mother and maternal grandparents are buried in the same cemetery, in a different section and we could never find any of their plots.

    The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the care and maintenance of all military markers and I wrote to them last year and asked if they could check to see if it was overgrown again; they were kind enough to send me a picture that was taken in 2019 and assured me that it would be cared for and maintained in perpetuity. This is the picture that they sent. upload_2021-3-30_18-23-43.png
  3. canadianbeth

    canadianbeth LostCousins Member

    I am sorry the picture is so big. I tried to make it a thumbnail and wound up with both. :(
  4. At home in NZ

    At home in NZ LostCousins Star

    I don't have ownership of my parents or grandparents graves but I have a story to tell about one that I do own.

    I had a brother who died at the age of 12 months from meningitis. There were no cures for it in the late 1940’s.
    I am the only sibling that was alive at the time and I have a very fleeting memory of my first brother.
    My mum had to arrange the funeral, burial and headstone alone because my dad was away at sea, he had signed a contract for a term and there was no breaking it, not even on compassionate grounds.
    Mum kept all the papers relating to the death, funeral and grave and when she died they were given to me.
    There is a lovely black and white photo of the gravestone which was taken by the stonemason when it was originally installed.
    The grave is in a suburb of Liverpool, sometime during the first twelve months after the burial we moved to a London suburb which meant there were spasmodic visits to the grave.
    I came to NZ in 1973 and never got back to Liverpool until 2010 and this is what I found:


    I went back in 2014 and on my return to NZ decided I would like to have the grave refurbished.

    I emailed the cemetery to ask if that was possible, this is part of the response:
    if the owner has since passed away we need to know, where and when they passed away for their next of kin, we would require a family tree or power of attorney/probate/executor details to establish ownership.

    I eventually provided mum’s death cert, dad’s death cert, my birth cert and a descendant chart from my family tree, plus a copy of the Deed of Grant issued to my mum.
    I kept my three brothers informed and they each contributed a quarter of the costs even though none of them had been born at the time of the death.
    I now have holding rights to the grave and a photo of me beside the refurbished gravestone taken in 2015.
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  5. Alexander Bisset

    Alexander Bisset Administrator Staff Member

    I found the comment regarding the reuse of headstones interesting. It may not be common knowledge but it was the norm in the past to not only remove headstones but to remove remains and reuse grave plots. This is largely why there are so very very few stones from pre late 1700s. Mostly those graves were dug up and the remains moved to a crypt or morthouse and the graves re-used. It was only in the mid/late Victorian period that attitudes to death changed, possibly due to Prince Albert's death and Queen Victoria's mourning, that it became common to revere grave sites as sacrosanct and untouchable.

    It is a relatively common site in some parts of the UK to find graveyards with the old stones lined up on the walls or to see parts of stones that have been reused elsewhere. It does however seem a tad insensitive to use them as footpaths and parking lots and is reminiscent of a scene in Schindler's List film where the Nazi's have cleared out Jewish graveyards and used the stones to make roads.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2021
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  6. At home in NZ

    At home in NZ LostCousins Star

    Following Alexander's comments I had to re-read the newsletter and would like to comment on this extract:

    "The stones were all face up so, for instance, Jeannie Brown who died in 1860 had a 4 x 4 parked on her headstone. Inside the church boundary all the headstones bar a dozen late 1700’s ones had been used to make footpaths. Considering the church grounds are used as a shortcut from one street to another there are people treading over them constantly. I was appalled and wrote to the church and the council only to be told it was a decision that had been made jointly. Arrogantly they said they were only headstones, what mattered was that the actual graves were still there.

    "Maybe I am being too sensitive but the above decision made by them shows a total lack of respect and is perhaps indicative of attitudes now adays. Or am I being too cynical?"

    I don't think you are too sensitive June, I agree that the use of headstones for paving and car parks is appalling.
    Even if the graves are still there, how is anybody supposed to find them??
    I've been in churches where there are gravestones on the floor as you go up the aisle and I always want to avoid treading on them because it feels disrespectful and 'creepy'.
  7. Susan48

    Susan48 LostCousins Superstar

    I have a copy (obtained a few years ago by my half first cousin) of a Grant of Exclusive Right of Burial from Heaton Cemetery in Bolton, Lancs. My grandfather paid the sum of £4 in March 1920 for "the exclusive Right of Burial in a certain Grave space", and the exact location of the space on the plan is given. There is a handwritten note at the top of the Grant which states that the interest of my grandfather in the Burial Grant was to be transferred to his stepson PFC, dated 6 April 1938. There is no indication of a fee being paid.
    There is also a copy of an Extract from the Register of Purchased Family Graves, which lists those who have been buried in the space purchased by my grandfather, giving date of burial, name and age. The first column gives the burial number, and also the depth of burial. First at 12 feet in March 1920 was my father's sister who died age 7 (see the little girl in my avatar); next at 10 ft 6 my grandfather in August 1920 age 35; then two other family members in 1923 and 1942 at 9 feet and 7 ft 6 in respectively.
    Family members in the Bolton area who died after 1942 were all cremated so the burial space was presumably not needed for them. PFC died in 1989 and was himself cremated, so the interest in the grave space (assuming it was still valid) would no doubt have ceased on his death. I was wondering, though, whether the space could have accommodated any more burials? I have no idea what minimum depth is required.
  8. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Megastar

    I think it's usually 6ft but exceptions are sometimes allowed if the grave is covered by a concrete/stone slab.
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  9. Pauline

    Pauline LostCousins Megastar

    I have visited some churchyards where this has happened - maybe not for car parking, but the stones had been used to create a path. Some were the right way up and occasionally still readable in parts, others had been placed inscription side down.

    Moving or removing gravestones in a churchyard usually requires a faculty, and I remember going through the faculty papers for one such parish at the record office. A requirement had been made that the memorials be recorded before being removed from the graves, and this had resulted in a short handwritten list of surnames - with no mention of dates, forenames or relationships. I can't imagine how anyone could see this as a sufficient record.
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  10. jbuchanangb

    jbuchanangb Member

    I have also found myself to be a interested party in three graves/burial plots. After my mother, the family genealogist, died in 1994 I took over the mantle, and among her papers I found a certificate of ownership of a grave, dated in 1909, endorsed on the back as transferred to my grandfather in 1936. In 1995 my father, my sister an I went to the cemetery, and showed the certificate at the office. An enormous ledger was produced, and the conversation went something like this: "Yes, that's an active grave, that's Mr Lazenby's grave, where is he?" "his ashes have been interred elsewhere he died in 1965". "Well you could bring them here if you want to - how are you related?" Of course my father had not known that my mother was in possession of her grandfather's grave certificate which belonged to her father, so had purchased a plot to inter my mother's ashes at a different cemetery. It was decided that the old grave from 1909, my great-grandparents' grave, with capacity for 2 more interments, could be transferred to my ownership. I have since replaced the headstone.
    20 years went by, and in 2015 my father died. Naturally his ashes were interred in the same plot as my mother's and ownership of that plot, with capacity for 2 more interments passed to my sister and myself jointly as heirs. In view of the fact that I already own a grave I signed my share over to my sister.
    Working my way through my father's paperwork I eventually came across information regarding HIS parents' grave, in yet a third cemetery, so I went to look for it, and found it, not in bad condition, because my father and his brother had paid for it to be refurbished in the 1980s. I made enquiries of the cemetery administrators, and discovered that the grave was still registered in my grandmother's name. Now my grandmother had died intestate, which meant that the grave was jointly owned by my father and his brother, both now deceased. My uncle had been the executor. The cemetery office was willing to accept that the grave had passed into my uncle's ownership, and on his death to his widow, my aunt. She was willing to transfer the ownership across to my daughter.
    So I now own my great-grandparents' grave and my will expresses my wish to be buried there. My sister now owns our parents' ashes plot with capacity for 2 interments, and my daughter owns her great-grandparents' grave.
    Additionally I have documents for, and have visited, at a fourth cemetery another great-grandparents' grave, the cemetery administrators say there are no plans for re-use or redevelopment of that part of the cemetery.
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  11. Teri

    Teri Genealogy in the Sunshine 2015

    Susan 48 wrote: I was wondering, though, whether the space could have accommodated any more burials? I have no idea what minimum depth is required.

    I think it would depend on how full the grave is, deterioration of the coffins can increase the depth (sorry not sure how else to explain). That said a number authorities will allow the internment of ashes on top of burials, it all depends on who runs the burial site.
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