Cemetery Safety


Several years ago, my husband and I visited a cemetery in an older section of Alabama. We had contacted one of the caretakers and he helped us find the plots we were looking for. While we were walking, he warned us to be cautious of other people in the area because there had been several robberies that had taken place in the cemetery. Robberies in a cemetery…who knew? Not long ago, we were once again in a cemetery which definitely looked like it was a scene for a shoot-em’ up Western movie. Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns comes to mind! Broken and toppled headstones, sand covered graves, barren landscape. As we drove through, looking for possible family gravesites, the theme song to “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” came over the radio. We laughed because it was so fitting. There were also several vagrants wandering around and I was glad we were in our car. Staying safe is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when we want to find our family plots in a cemetery, but it is certainly an important part of our visit.

So how do you accomplish your mission and still stay safe? First be sure you know where the cemetery is and the hours it operates, either by looking it up on the internet or calling the cemetery office. Be sure to go with other people, perhaps a group of genealogists or at least one other person. Let someone know where you will be, how long you expect to be there and/or that you will call them when you leave. Be sure to take your cell phone with a full charge! You can also check in with the cemetery office and find out if they have had any problems there, such as robberies or panhandling, and what they recommend to stay safe. Someone from the office may even volunteer to go with you.

If the cemetery is in a desert area, you may want to be cautious of snakes and wear tall boots or sturdy hiking gear. I know….sounds over the top doesn’t it? O.K., then how about taking sunscreen because you will probably want to go in the daytime. After all, the best time to take pictures of headstones is usually in the morning to avoid shadows.

So to summarize:
1. Locate the correct cemetery
2. Know its operating hours
3. Get help finding the plot locations
4. Go with other people
5. Have a fully charged cell phone
6. Notify someone about your trip
7. Wear appropriate shoes or boots for the location,
8. Take sunscreen.

Too much to remember?  Just remember what you used to tell your kids (or still do) when they wanted to go somewhere.  Do you make lists to remember what to take on trips?  Make cemetery lists. Whatever you do, make sure to stay safe!

Let me know what your cemetery experiences have been and what you have done to stay safe in cemeteries.  It could help others!


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Tom Bowen

    I love to visit cemeteries and have visited many, but never thought much about safety, but I do agree with your advice. It is important always be aware of your surroundings as you become excited about finding an ancestor’s grave right in front of you. In my area of Indiana, you also have to watch for poison ivy, briars, etc. As I have visited every cemetery in my county a few years ago for a project of the Indiana Genealogical Society which would provide directions to every known cemetery in the state, I once went up a hill and two menacing looking dogs were eying me. I felt lucky to make it safely out of that one. It would have been good to have someone with me that day.

    • ahopgen@gmail.com

      I hadn’t thought about encountering poison ivy, briars, and dogs in the cemetery! The Hound of the Baskervilles comes to mind as I was reading your great comments. Thanks, Tom!

  2. Chuck Foss

    Anita, I enjoyed reading the article and think you have a great blog!

  3. Dawn

    Love the blog Anita and I look forward to the witty anecdotes and helpful tips that are sure to come! Good luck.

  4. Sally

    I too love to visit cemeteries and have for decades – they are fascinating, hold much history
    and, of course, so valuable to us genealogy sleuths. Fortunately, I have never encountered
    any of the potential problems that are disclosed here. While it saddens me to
    think of robberies and such in a cemetery, for heaven’s sake, thanks for the eye opener
    and good points to keep in mind for future visits. And as a bonus, the suggestion for
    taking pictures in the morning to avoid shadows is great –
    Thanks, Anita …. keep up your interesting and fascinating writing – look forward to more of it.

    • ahopgen@gmail.com

      Thanks for visiting my blog! I think that the more remote cemeteries and Pioneer cemeteries are less visited and more caution is needed. I’m glad that most people have not had problems. Good to hear from you!

  5. Lynn Ontiveros

    Wow Anita! You cease to amaze me. This is such a great idea, your blog – I think it will be very well received. You should publicize it on FB! Now that I’m finally retired (again!) I might have the opportunity to work on our family. How lucky am I to know just the right person to help me! Wishing you the best.

    • Anita Lou

      Thanks, Lynn! And, of course, I would love to help you with your family tree. Just let me know. FB is a great idea…I’ll have to see how to do that.

  6. Marlene

    Great job Anita lots of good tips. One thing I’d add is to carry some white chalk, rubbing it over weather-worn inscriptions makes them easier to transcribe. Fill a pocket with chalk-sticks because they wear down quickly when applied to stone. I’m not aware that this damages grave- markers, perhaps someone has a better idea? Keep up the good work!

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  8. Nikki Karr

    Looking forward to the next post…you left me hanging in a cemetery. 😉

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