Today, all across the world, thousands of small cemeteries on private property are in danger of being bulldozed off, and the land used for crops, grazing, or new development. Left unprotected, many cemeteries fall prey to real estate developers or others who are seeking short term economic or personal goals. These unfeeling people destroy many of these old cemeteries, showing no respect for the dead or their families. They do not appreciate or understand the importance of human burial sites as visible, tangible links to the people who made our history. The inscriptions on their monuments tell us not only their names and dates, but often where they lived, their occupations and affiliations, the manner of their death, personal traits that survivors held dear, and names of relatives. These inscriptions provide us with invaluable data regarding local, medical, and material history, cultural geography, historical archaeology, folklore, genealogy, and much more. Data that in many cases may be found nowhere else.
The Saving Graves - Cemetery Preservation Alliance is strongly committed to the protection of human burial sites from unauthorized and unwarranted disturbance, by man or nature. We believe that the willful desecration or destruction of human burial sites is unacceptable in a civilized society. It is our objective to highlight their importance and promote an attitude or reverence and respect, while encouraging further preservation of these unique historical resources.
We are not asking private land owners to do anything for the maintenance of the cemetery, nor are we suggesting unrestricted access to their private land. We are only asking private property owners to allow access at 'reasonable times' to legitimate groups to do the repairs and upkeep that is necessary, and to allow descendants and other interested parties the opportunity to visit the graves.
Some of the serious problems that we are facing today in various states include:
- Grave markers have been damaged, destroyed, or removed illegally. In some documented cases illegally removed grave markers have been sold in flea markets as landscaping items. Funerary art (gates, fences, plaques, flag holders, etc) have been stolen by thieves looking to sell the metal as scrap or to antique and garden dealers.
- In many places where laws currently exist to protect against the willful desecration or destruction of cemeteries, these laws are rarely enforced.
- Under several current laws, cemeteries and graves that are determined to be "abandoned" can be relocated without the knowledge, approval, or involvement of descendants or interested parties.
- A number of places today have no procedures governing the accidental discovery of human remains.
- In many areas, there is no official inventory or register of known burial sites. In Louisiana for example, a railroad is being built through a church cemetery, that is active and has been used for 90 years. When land was taken by the Department of Defense to put in said railroad, a spokesman stated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had no idea the cemetery existed. It does not appear on the public maps.
- Despite provisions in some laws for the voluntary (as opposed to compulsory) granting of access, by a landowner, to burial sites located on his private property, descendants and interested parties are often denied access to family burial sites.
- Covenants recorded in land records protecting burial sites and excluding them from the sale of adjoining property are often overlooked or disregarded during title searches, resulting in burial sites being disturbed or destroyed during development.
- Several locations provide no established guidelines for the scientific or historical studies of burial sites as defined within the law nor provisions for authorizing such studies.