Monday, August 24, 2015

Cemetery Perpetual Care? What does it cover?

These photos were taken at the Riverside Cemetery in Hooksett, New Hampshire.
Can you read the tiny sign next to the toppled gravestone?


Wife of
Stephen C. Eastman
Aug. 16, 1892
AEt. 88 yrs, 9 mos.
20 ds.

I have seen many toppled gravestones all around New England while on my visits to graveyards.  Most are due to weather.  Some are caused by the lawn mowing crews.  A few are vandalism.

Did you know that the perpetual care promised by cemeteries, public and private, does not apply to the gravestones erected by family members on plots?  Perpetual care applies only to the grounds (mowing, road repair, etc).   Read your cemetery deeds and contracts carefully.  When I have found problems with gravestones for my ancestors I have been told by cemetery caretakers and by town officials that repair, resetting and restoration of gravestones is the responsibility of the family and descendants.  Even if there is no surviving family.

However, in some cases, the cemetery will reset and straighten toppled gravestones.  Volunteers from the town or from historical societies will sometimes get permission to restore or reset toppled stones.  Sometimes the cemetery itself will straighten stones upon request, even if it is not their responsibility.  It is a matter of money, community awareness, and expertise.  Don't attempt to right a toppled gravestone without the proper equipment and education. These stones are heavy, and require machinery to life and reset- not elbow grease and crowbars.

In this case I was told by the Hooksett Cemetery commission that "I am sorry to report that perpetual care of markers and headstones is the responsibility of families and next of kin.  The Hooksett Cemetery Commission trustees... understand there's a problem that needs to be solved in all of the Hooksett municipal cemeteries because in some cases there may not be any next of kin alive or in the area."

This is especially true in towns where the cemeteries date from the 1600s and 1700s, but even 20th century burials may not have any next of kin.  Perhaps like Ruhamah Eastman.

UPDATE - August 24, 2015 9:16am - I received a Facebook message from Karen Blandford-Anderson of Derry, NH about this blog post "Derry's Forest Hills Cemetery is mowed and serviced by the town, but the older stones are preserved by the Friends of the Forest Hills Cemetery and the Derry Heritage Commission. We did lay down a number of stones a few years ago to preserve them as we were afraid if they fell they would break and then it would be near impossible to repair. It is a long process, but lovingly done by people who care about history!"

For the truly curious:

The New Hampshire Old Graveyard Association: 

The Maine Old Cemetery Association: 

There is probably a similar old burial ground association in your state, too.  


To Cite/Link to this post:  Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Cemetery Perpetual Care?  What does it cover?", Nutfield Genealogy, posted August 24, 2015, ( :  accessed [access date]).

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