A cemetery is a manmade landscape that contains the burial grounds of deceased people. It may contain graves, memorials or plaques.

A graveyard can tell us much about the past including a region’s ethnicities, lifestyles and historical events. Acute observation and careful detective work can reveal clues such as names, dates, designs and inscriptions on grave markers.


A cemetery (also known as a graveyard or burial ground) is land set aside for the interment of dead people. A cemetery may be designed to reflect the religion, culture, beliefs and habits of the buried individuals.

The term graveyard tends to evoke images of old churchyards with older tombstones scattered about in a disorganized manner, while cemetery suggests something much larger and more modern. This is because cemetery became a common name when the need for new burial grounds outside of churches was needed due to church graveyards filling up.

Modern cemeteries typically provide for the sale of physical burial rights (plots, crypts or niches), the opening and closing of graves and the ongoing maintenance of the cemetery property. They also offer a variety of services for the memorialization of the deceased through monuments, headstones and markers. Many also have a columbaria wall which provides for the inurnment of cremated remains. Depending on the cemetery, these can be quite elaborate in design and expensive.


As population growth accelerated church graveyards filled up. New independent sites called cemeteries were established a bit away from town or city centers to allow for more burials.

The emergence of the rural cemetery movement in America around 1831 also contributed to changes at many cemeteries. This was a time when the concept of state- rather than church- controlled cemeteries took hold.

Graves were marked more and more with permanent memorialization, which included the name of the deceased as well as a symbol or phrase of remembrance. This was often in the form of a rose, for example.

Historically, cemetery grounds have been considered holy ground. This may have had to do with religious beliefs or the idea that a soul was leaving the body for the afterlife. Many people also believed that the spirits of the dead hung out in the cemetery, and they could be seen at night time roaming the grounds. Superstition and legend also surrounded graveyards as being places where sorcerers and witches went to get skulls and bones for their spells.


The location of a cemetery tells you a lot about the culture that built it. For example, in the early American colonies, people often bought land specifically to have it be their family’s cemetery. This was based on the widespread belief that ties of kinship continue beyond death.

The shape and design of tombstones are also clues to the history of a cemetery. Many tombstones have inscriptions that reveal the names and dates of those interred in a particular graveyard.

To physically manage the space used by burial plots, and to record their locations in the burial register, most cemeteries have a systematic layout of grave sites in rows or sections. This information is usually displayed on a cemetery burial plot map, which helps both the cemetery staff and those trying to locate a specific grave within the cemetery.


When a person dies, they can be interred in one of the 4 main types of cemetery. These include public cemeteries, private cemeteries, family cemeteries and mass graves. Public cemeteries are typically owned by a municipality and have plots that are available to the general public for purchase. They also offer more services than private cemeteries.

Family cemetery: This type of cemetery has small areas for families to be buried together. These may have a single headstone with the family name engraved on it to mark the area and then smaller headstones for each individual member of the family that is buried there.

Churchyard cemetery: This type of cemetery is associated with a church and was historically reserved for members of the congregation. These are generally not as large as the garden cemetery. The term cemetery is the modern word used to describe this type of burial ground, but the older word is still sometimes used, especially in Europe where churchyards are often very full.

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