Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cemetery Saturday - Do I have the RIGHT to visit that burial site?

I am curious about the rights to visit burial sites of our ancestors. Is there some legal right or not? I certainly would not march up to some farmer's property and start poking around without permission from him, but do I have an actual legal right to gain access to a cemetery of my ancestors on his property?

My 10th Great Grandfather James Thomas lived in Charles County Maryland in the mid-late 1600s. His family owned a large tobacco plantation they called "Ware". This property, was then transferred to his wife by his will, signed in 1701. Over the generations, Ware was divided up among sons and daughters, and part was eventually was owned by my 8th Great Grandmother Anna Mary Thomas who was married to James Kidwell Sr.

In a deed dated June 9, 1772, Anna Mary Thomas Kidwell and James Kidwell sold 50 acres of Ware back to the Thomas family, 1/4 acre of the property was listed as a burial ground.

It is believed by many Kidwell researchers (and there are MANY of us) that James and Anna Mary Kidwell are both buried on the property, along with other various Thomas and Kidwell family members. Question is - do we have a right to view them?

I have a hand drawn map, made by another researcher using various documents stating the exact location of the property and sure enough, when I look at this area on google earth, there's a power plant smack in the area of where he's drawn the property on this map. I am still curious if this is actually the correct location of the plantation but for now, I'll take his word for it. I have heard from other researchers and would-be visitors to the area that they have written to the power company for permission to visit the location and have been told that due to security reasons, they would not be permitted access to the property.... is this legal?

I myself have written to this power company, requesting that if I cannot visit the burial location of my ancestors, would they mind searching the property for a burial ground or cemetery? And, if I'm still not permitted access, would they photograph the area for me? Not surprisingly, I have not yet heard back from them but I'm confident that they'll at the very least send me a kind "no" notice. I actually don't expect them to photograph it, but what does it hurt to ask?

In the meantime, I've been searching for information related to the laws about burials and allowing access to family members to family cemeteries. On rootsweb I found an interesting bit of info related to Maryland law on this matter.
Most interesting to me was the following statement, found on the page "Applicable Laws in the Annotated Code of Maryland and the Maryland Rules"

"To gain access to a cemetery located on private property: To facilitate access to a cemetery, Section 14-121 of the Real Property Article provides that any person in interest (as defined in the Section) may request the owner of a burial site or of the land encompassing a burial site, that has been documented or recognized as a burial site by the public or any person in interest, to grant reasonable access to the burial site for the purpose of restoring, maintaining, or viewing the burial site. An access agreement form can be executed similar to the one that is printed in the text of the law. The law provides that except for willful or malicious acts, the owner of a burial site or of the land encompassing a burial site is not liable for damages in a civil action to a person who enters on the land for injury to person or property."

I'll have to look into this matter to get more detailed info, such as who do they refer to as a "person in interest, as defined in the Section"? Would an 8th great grandchild be a "person in interest"?

Realizing of course that I cannot simply walk into their office and demand access to the property, I don't think it's too much to ask if proper arrangements are made with them.

Watch for updates if/when I receive something from the power company I'll be sure to post my disgust.


  1. An interesting issue; probably one that a number of genealogists have to confront sooner or later. Good luck with the power company!

  2. Wondering if you have made any headway on this. I'd like to find the grave myself, but wanted to check with you first!

  3. Also, I'd LOVE to have a copy of that hand drawn map, if you'd care to share. My email is