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Historic Burial Grounds

1. How do I get a burial ground listed on the National Register of Historic Places? What are the benefits of listing?

The Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) has a brief introduction to the National Register of Historic Places online here:

The National Park Service (NPS) has detailed instructions for how to complete the National Register nomination form online. You can find links to downloadable forms and instruction bulletins here:

NPS has special guidelines for the evaluation and documentation of cemeteries online here:

For burial grounds, there are several benefits of listing in the National Register. Listing makes the cemetery eligible for grant funds through MHC’s Preservation Projects Fund –

Listing can also provide some protection from potential adverse effects of projects that receive state or federal funding or permits (a highway project, for example). For more information on MHC’s role in reviewing such projects, go to:

Listing on the National Register can also draw public attention to neglected burial grounds, and foster interest in preservation of historic cemeteries.

If you’re looking for sample nomination forms to use for models, you can find National Register nominations for cemeteries on MHC’s online database, MACRIS –– At the first search screen, you can select individual towns or the entire state. At the second search screen, you can select “Burial grounds” in the “Resource Type” box, then click “Designation Type” (to the left of the box) and select any of the National Register designations. If the nomination is available online, you will see a red “NR” box on the search results screen. Standards for National Register nominations have changed over the years, so be sure to check the date of any nominations you might use for models.

2. What’s the best way to preserve the historic cemeteries in my town?

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has two excellent publications about cemeteries and cemetery preservation. Both are available online.

Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Preservation Guidelines for Municipally Owned Historic Burial Grounds and Cemeteries. Mass. Walker-Kluesing Design Group, 2000. (can be downloaded at:

Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. “Terra Firma #10 – Morning Glory: Preserving Historic Cemeteries.” (can be downloaded at:

3. Are there any special laws and regulations governing the care and restoration of historic burial grounds?

                Yes. MHC has a list of laws and regulations pertaining to burial grounds on its website –

You can find the appropriate Mass. General Laws online here:

And you can find the appropriate regulations here:

4. Where can I find funding for historic cemetery documentation and preservation?

Community Preservation Act (CPA)

CPA is a program that provides funding for open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation projects. CPA funds are often used to restore historic burial grounds. To find out if your town has adopted CPA, go to the Community Preservation Coalition’s website. On this page – – there’s a drop-down list of all the CPA towns in Massachusetts. If your town’s name is on the list, contact your CPA Committee to find out about application procedures. Contact information should be on your town’s website or available at your Town or City Hall.

Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund (MPPF) 

Through the MHC, this program provides funding for the acquisition, preservation, and rehabilitation of historic properties, landscapes, and sites. MPPF grants often help to pay for the costs of consultants who prepare National Register nominations, and for repair of historic gravestones and monuments.

ICAPGEN (International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists) – “Whispers from the Dust” Grant Program

“Whispers from the Dust” is a grant program that provides technology and financial support for cemeteries to:

  • Preserve historical information

  • Modernize record keeping

  • Make information accessible on the Internet

How Does the Grant Program Work?

  1. ICAPGen serves as the philanthropic agent for the collection and distribution of funds for the grant program.

  2. Cemeteries apply for a grant from ICAPGen. Approved cemeteries are required to share the cost through dollars or labor. Cemetery grants provide: a paper to digital conversion of maps and records; records management hardware and software; and publication of information on the Internet.

  3. Cemetery employees are trained to use and maintain their new systems.

  4. Maps and records are uploaded to the award-winning cemetery website, NAMES IN STONE, where they are made available for worldwide family history and genealogical research.

NOTE: This program provides assistance for documentation only; it has no funding for restoration of gravestones or landscaping:

Other Grant Programs:

There are many more grants available from foundations and other sources. Because of the artistry and craftsmanship found in historic burial gounds, cultural funds can often be a good source of assistance. Preservation Massachusetts has a list of grants online at wherever we end up putting the grants list

5. Where can I find a contractor who can restore historic gravestones and monuments?

The following is a list of online directories of preservation contractors and consultants. Most are searchable by keyword and/or contractor specialty (NOTE – this could be a link to the list of online directories elsewhere on the PM website, rather than having the whole list here). This list is a place to start—it is not intended to be comprehensive, nor does the inclusion of a business or organization in any of the listed resources serve as an endorsement. As with any contractor, be sure to check credentials and get references.

6. How can I find out about gravestone carvers and monument styles?

There are a number of excellent publications that discuss gravestone imagery, carvers, and monument styles. Here are several:

  • Benes, Peter, editor. Puritan Gravestone Art I. Dublin, New Hampshire: The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 1976.

  • Benes, Peter, editor. Puritan Gravestone Art II. Dublin, New Hampshire: The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 1978.

  • Chase, Theodore, and Gabel, Laurel K. Gravestone Chronicles I and II. Boston: New England Historical Genealogical Society, 1990.

  • Clark, Rusty and Bob. Stories Carved in Stone series. West Springfield, Dog Pond Press, various dates.  (NOTE: These books are terrific for researchers trying to identify gravestone carvers in Western Mass. As of 2012, there are books about Agawam, Holyoke, Enfield (CT), West Springfield, and Westfield.)

  • Forbes, Harriette Merrifield. Gravestones of Early New England and the Men who made them, 1653-1800. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1927.

  • Jacobs, G. Walker. Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye: A Guide to Gravestones and Gravestone Rubbing. Brattleboro, Vermont: The Stephen Greene Press, 1973.

  • Ludwig, Allan I. Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and its Symbols, 1650-1815. Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press, 1999 (3rd ed.).

  • McDowell, Peggy, and Meyer, Richard E. The Revival Styles in American Memorial Art. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994.

  • Sloane, David Charles. The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History. Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

  • Williams, Melvin G. The Last Word: The Lure and Lore of Early New England Gravestones. Boston: Oldstone Enterprises, 1973.

7. Are there any online resources for historic cemetery research and preservation?
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