Cemetery Preservation

When discussing the preservation of cemeteries, the first question that must be answered is, “who owns the cemetery?” There are basically three types of ownership in Ohio: township, municipal and private.

Ohio laws pertaining to cemeteries under the jurisdiction of townships can be found in Ohio Revised Code(ORC) Chapter 517; ORC Chapter 759 pertains to cemeteries under the jurisdiction of municipalities (cities, villages and joint municipal/township cemeteries); ORC Chapter 1721 pertains to cemeteries under the jurisdiction of (private) cemetery associations.

Once ownership is established, the concerned parties should contact local officials responsible for the cemetery’s care. For townships this the Board of Township Trustees; for cities the Director of Public Service; for villages the Mayor or the Board of Cemetery Trustees; for jointly owned cemeteries the Board of Township Trustees and the legislative authorities of the municipalities; and for cemetery associations the Board of Trustees of such associations.

Anyone interested in preventing or reporting vandalism at cemeteries should contact local law enforcement officers. According to ORC Chapter 2909.05, vandalism and other offenses against burial places is a fourth-degree felony.

Additionally, violations of ORC Chapter 2927.11, defacing commemorative markers, are second-degree misdemeanors. The County Prosecutor should be contacted concerning such offenses. It may also be useful to contact legal counsel and your state and local Representatives and Senators. Before approaching elected officials for assistance, it is important to gather information on the cemetery’s condition.

Raising public awareness about the need to preserve and care for cemeteries can be done by contacting the local media and sponsoring cemeteries tours.

The Ohio Genealogical Society is a leading advocate for cemetery preservation at the state level. They may be contacted at:

Ohio Genealogical Society
611 State Route 97 West
Bellville OH 44813-88137
Attn: State Cemetery Chairperson
Telephone (419) 866-1903
Website: www.ogs.org

The State of Ohio’s Department of Commerce, Division of Real Estate, accepts complaints from any person against any individual or entity operating or maintaining a cemetery registered with the Division of Real Estate. The complaint must relate to an activity, practice, policy or procedure of the cemetery that may adversely affect the interest of an owner or family member of an owner of a cemetery lot or burial, entombment, or columbarium right. However, the Division of Real Estate is only authorized to conduct investigations of cemeteries that have been active within the past 25 years. The Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission carries out such investigations. Ohio law about such matters can be found in ORC Chapter 4767. Cemetery complaint forms are available from:

Division of Real Estate
77 S. High Street, 20th Floor
Columbus, Ohio 43215
(614) 466-4100
Website: http://www.com.ohio.gov/real

The Association for Gravestone Studies is a leading advocate of cemetery preservation at the national level. They may be contacted at:

Association for Gravestone Studies
Greenfield Corporate Center
101 Munson Street - Suite 108
Greenfield, MA 01301
(413) 772-0836
Website: www.gravestonestudies.org

For information about gravestone documentation and public awareness, consult the Gravestone Preservation Primer (2nd Addition). This 1988 publication can be obtained by contacting:

American Association for State and Local History
2021 21st Ave., S. Suite 320
Nashville, TN 37212
Telephone: (615) 320-3203
Website: www.aaslh.org