Preserving Illinois Burial Grounds and Cemeteries
Burial grounds and Cemeteries
The term cemetery is used throughout this website
to denote both burial grounds and cemeteries. Burial grounds and
cemeteries are terms that are used interchangeably to describe
the places we bury our dead. While this broad use of the term
is mostly accurate, the two words actually have different meanings.
Burial grounds are those places where people bury their dead.
In Illinois Native American burial grounds were made in natural
rock shelters, in artificial mounds, and within or near village
areas. Historic settlers buried their dead in areas near their
homes and later in churchyard and small community burial grounds.
The word cemetery derives from the Greek word koimterin which
means “dormitory” or “place of rest” and
from the Latin word cormeterium meaning “sleeping place.”
Cemeteries as we know them today developed from the concept of
a rural cemetery plan. The Rural
Cemetery Movement in the U.S. began in 1831 at Mt. Auburn
Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. Cemeteries were moved away from community
living spaces to a more rural area. They became park-like settings
with roads, trees, and sculptures. They were still places to memorialize
the dead but cemetery planners wanted the living to have a more
pleasant experience when visiting their loved ones. Therefore,
all cemeteries are burial grounds but not all burial grounds are
cemeteries. It is these dedicated sacred spaces that we seek to
protect and preserve for future generations.
Skeletal Remains Protection Act (20 ILCS 3440) and its implementing
IAC 4170) were created to ensure protection from disturbance
and preservation of all unregistered graves, grave markers (including
burial mounds), and grave artifacts that are over 100 years old.
It is the intent of this Act that all human graves and human skeletal
remains be accorded equal treatment and respect for human dignity
without reference to ethnic origins, cultural background, or religious
affiliation. These regulations apply to all prehistoric and historic
American Indian, historic Illinoisan, pioneer, Civil War, and
other human skeletal remains found in unregistered graves, associated
grave artifacts, and grave markers upon or within any public or
private land in the State.
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency administers
the Act and administrative codes. Preservation in place
is the preferred option for the protection and preservation of
unregistered graves, associated grave artifacts, and grave markers.
Per the Act, an unregistered grave is defined as
any grave or location where a human body has been buried or deposited.
In addition, the grave is more than 100 years old and is not in
a cemetery registered with the Illinois Office of the State Comptroller
under the Cemetery
Care Act (760 ILCS 100) or under the authority of the Illinois
Department of Financial and Professional Regulation pursuant to
Oversight Act (225 ILCS 411.)
Reasons to preserve cemeteries
It is important to clearly identify why you want to preserve a
cemetery. To ensure the success of your cemetery preservation
project, you need to establish short- and long-term goals. Short-term
goals, such as cleaning markers of your family members, will give
you small tasks to complete and you will have an immediate sense
of accomplishment. Long-term goals can provide for future care
of the cemetery. Many well-meaning individuals or groups want
to restore a cemetery because it is the right thing to do and
the project would contribute to the preservation of local history.
However, people may meet for only a short period of time and never
complete the project. Sometimes the project is completed and the
cemetery looks great but the long-term maintenance of the cemetery
is not planned. The cemetery will eventually fall into disrepair
once again. Therefore, a successful cemetery preservation project
must have plans for the immediate needs of the cemetery, but more
importantly, there must be provisions for its permanent future