When discussing the preservation of cemeteries, the first question that must be asked and 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 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, is a second degree misdemeanor. The County Prosecutor should be contacted concerning such offenses. It may also be useful to contact legal counsel as well as 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 as well as sponsoring tours of cemeteries.
At the state level the Ohio Genealogical Society is a leading advocate for cemetery preservation. They may be contacted at:
Ohio Genealogical Society
713 South Main Street
Mansfield, OH 44907
Attn: State Cemetery Chairperson
Telephone (419) 756-7294
The Ohio Cemetery Preservation Society is a non-profit membership organization and clearinghouse for publications, events, and information about cemetery significance and preservation:
Ohio Cemetery Preservation Society
P.O. Box 24810
Lyndhurst, OH 44124-0810
Telephone (216) 291-0580
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. Such investigations are carried out by the Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission. Ohio law pertaining to such matters can be found in ORC Chapter 4767. Cemetery complaint forms are available from:
Division of Real Estate
615 Superior Avenue, 12th Floor
Cleveland, OH 44113
At the national level, the Association for Gravestone Studies is a leading advocate of cemetery preservation. They may be contacted at:
Association for Gravestone Studies
278 Main Street, Suite 207
Greenfield, MA 01301
For information about gravestone documentation, public awareness, consult the Gravestone Preservation Primer. This 1988 publication can be obtained by contacting:
American Association for State
and Local History
1717 Church Street
Nashville, TN 37203-2991
Telephone: (615) 320-3203
Fax: (614) 327-9013