Recently, while on a short vacation, I happened to pass a rather large cemetery with a rather large Mausoleum. Out of curiosity, I decided to drive through the cemetery to see some of the older stones and the rather large Mausoleum. As I suspected, the large Mausoleum was the burial place of Ty Cobb. It sits on a large private plot in the middle of the Cemetery. On the Mausoleum were mementos left by others: a couple of baseballs, an old bat and a beautiful wreath.
A gentleman that was doing some of the lawn maintenance paused, looked over at me for what seemed like forever before he tipped his hat my way and went about his lawn work. I was struck the gesture of silence and the hard stare upon me. It made me pause more than usual and think about why this guy would stare so long. I'm a middle aged woman dressed decently but not fancy and had a camera in my hands. My vehicle wasn't beat up, dirty or old. I did not take anything else out of my car except myself and my camera. I even left my purse in the passenger seat. So, I just had to have a conversation with this gentleman so he knew I wasn't there to harm any of the stones.
Turns out, this gentleman was a really nice local guy who takes meticulous care of the cemetery grounds as part of his personally owned lawn care business. Ty Cobb is a big deal is this small town of Royston, GA. The tiny museum helps bring tourists into the town and feed the economy. The entire town is protective of anything and everything Ty Cobb related including his resting place. This guy just wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to remove the wreath or baseballs. Not that he thought I would steal them but perhaps move them for photos and forget to put them back. Instantly, I totally understood his concern.
Legal or Not Legal?
This encounter got me thinking about the legality of visiting cemeteries and taking photos. Most of my photos are taken from hidden and obscure family (i.e. My Ancestor's) cemeteries. In West Virginia where I do most of my work, family cemeteries are scattered on what were large family farms but have since been sold and subdivided. A lot of these old family cemeteries are hidden in the back woods that were allowed to be overgrown. The current owners leave the family cemeteries alone and probably prefer for them to be forgotten. Some owners are agreeable to others visiting and photographing but a lot are not.
I do try to get permission from the property owner before walking their land. I've found some of my family cemeteries actually have an easement or access road and that makes them public property. So, if it's public property that should mean that anyone (i.e. the public) has free access. Not necessarily true! You could still be illegally trespassing.
Property Laws, Federal Laws and State Laws
Here's the breakdown.... private (as in my family cemeteries or Church Cemeteries) and public (as in Arlington National Cemetery) have rights: Property Rights. This can get tricky because you also need to check the State Cemetery Laws. Each cemetery can also have their own specific RULES. These rules can govern access, photographic equipment (Arlington is notorious to limit the type of equipment) and cleaning of tombstones.
In my opinion, West Virginia has some of the most lenient Cemetery Laws in the Country. They allow public access on private land even if there is not an access road. I feel that West Virginia's laws are specifically because they know so many families would simply bury their loved ones on their own property... and that few, these days, have large tracts of land that they can easily govern.
Read their specifics here: http://www.wvlegislature.gov/wvcode/chapterentire.cfm?chap=37&art=13A§ion=1
Something else I wanted to mention is that
Clear as Mud?
Although, I did not clearly answer the question of if it is legal or not to visit and photograph a cemetery, it is because there is not one standard law that spells the law and rules out. Each Cemetery can have it's own by-laws and rules as well as each State. National Cemeteries are governed by the Federal Govt, Military and National Parks. AND this is just in the United States!
Laws outside of the USA are vastly varied. One notorious cemetery in England, Brookwood, requires you to register at the office AND pay a fee as a photographer. They actively search the internet, Facebook, Find A Grave, Ancestry and other forums/personal sites for photos of their cemetery. Since it is privately owned, they have the right to charge... and to email you asking to remove your photos asap.
In a nutshell, for a large cemetery, check the "Rules" signage that is almost always at the entrance. For National Cemeteries, know that very basic cameras are probably allowed but it's best to check with the main offices located at the Cemetery. For City Cemeteries, again, check the Rules signage but note that a lot of cities are growing weary of constant photographers for Find A Grave, Ancestry and other websites. Although most photographers are kind and leave no trace, there are those that consider it a competition and will remove items (flowers, trinkets, coins, etc) from tombstones and not replace them. In my opinion, they should never be removed in the first place.
Kindness above all is always the best approach. Even though you might walk a cemetery without ever seeing a living soul, in my mind, there are still souls there that appreciate your kindness as well as your carefulness. Be respectful.
During this Memorial Day, my family will stop by a forgotten cemetery to clean the tombstones of Vet's. You would be surprised how many Vet's graves are completely covered in gray/black pollution, green lichen or overgrown by grass and weeds. We try to always clean them and leave behind some flowers and a leave a penny. Why a penny? Below are the traditions for leaving coins on Vet's graves
While visiting some cemeteries you may notice that headstones marking certain graves have coins on them, left by previous visitors to the grave.
These coins have significant meanings when left on the headstones of those who gave their life while serving in America's military.
A coin left on a headstone or at the grave site is meant as a message to the deceased soldier's family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect.
PENNY: Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited.
NICKEL: Leaving a nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together.
DIME: Leaving a dime means you served with him in some capacity.
QUARTER: Leaving a quarter at the grave, means that you were with the soldier when he was killed.
According to tradition, the money left at graves in national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries is eventually collected, and the funds are put toward maintaining the cemetery or paying burial costs for indigent veterans.
In the US, this practice became common during the Vietnam war, due to the political divide in the country over the war; leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the soldier's family, which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war.
Some Vietnam veterans would leave coins as a "down payment" to buy their fallen comrades a beer or play a hand of cards when they would finally be reunited.
The tradition of leaving coins on the headstones of military men and women can be traced to as far back as the Roman Empire.
Just about everyone knows that if you are anywhere in Webster County, WV, then the chances of meeting a Hamrick or a Gregory is VERY high. So, on my search for my 3rd Great Grandfather, I landed at Meadowland Cemetery looking for a Gregory. I did not find the ONE I was looking for but I did find William Given Gregory.
I highlighted ONE because believe it or not, William is the ONLY Gregory buried in Meadowland. I find that fascinating. His wife, Rebecca Sands Gregory is buried elsewhere in the Cool Springs Cemetery in Webster County, WV.
William was the son of Col. Isaac Gregory (1772-1852) and Sarah Given Gregory (1766-1836).
William was a Devout Methodist (a very popular religion in Webster County, WV) and lived most of his adult life on the Elk River not too far from Meadowland Cemetery. William was elected Sheriff of Webster County, WV in October 1865.
William and Rebecca had eight children: Nancy, Margaret, Sarah, Jane, Adam, Elmira, Mary and Levicy.
There are times that I am in absolute shock that I come across a grave that has been left alone, not necessarily neglected, but not often visited and it is a famous or what I like to call "famous to me" tombstone. It also always surprises me when no one has updated their Find A Grave memorial. Instead the memorial looks to be added by those that are hungry for more and more memorials and sit and type in people and dates, mindlessly, all day without a curiosity to who that person was in the living world.
A visit to Central West Virginia always has me stopping by the Weston Masonic Cemetery in... Weston, WV. This is where my Dad is buried. The conditions of this cemetery really are not great. Dead mowed grass from years and years has covered so much of the flat stones along with flooding that many are buried. One day, my husband, son and I decided that we should not only clean up my Dad's memorial but his "neighbors." Some of them are family, most are not. The Weston Masonic Cemetery is truly a random mix of citizens. Once we started cleaning up the "neighbors," we realized that more and more of them needed cleaned and documented. Find A Grave must have over 300 requests for this almost 4000 space cemetery.
It was during one of those days that we dedicated to cleaning up my Dad's "neighbors" that we I photo documented, Paul Edward Ebbert, Sr. If you are an old-timer from West Virginia, you might recognize the name. You might even put the face to the name. If you have watched American Pickers, you might also put the face to the name. Paul Ebbert was the WV State Policeman that posed for "SLOW DOWN" school zone sign that was used throughout the Elementary schools in West Virginia.
Article from Vintage West Virginia - On June 13, 1938, West Virginia State Police Trooper Paul Ebbert was told to go home, put on a dress uniform and return to the Capitol as soon as possible. He thought he was to escort Governor Holt on an out of state trip. Instead, because at 6'3", he was West Virginia's tallest trooper, he was to be photographed.
From this photo image, plywood troopers were made, painted and distributed in pairs to elementary schools in all 55 counties of West Virginia. These wooden troopers had lettering on the front that said, "SLOW, SCHOOL ZONE" 15 m.p.h.. The back had black and white stripes and said, "RESUME SPEED, THANK YOU, THE STATE ROAD COMMISSION OF WV."
To the bottom of each of these wooden troopers was affixed a metal pipe that would either fit over another pipe or into a hole drilled into the center of the highway. Morning and evening, and sometimes at noon, a wooden trooper was placed by a Patrol Student at each end of the school zone facing upcoming traffic. These wooden sentinels stood guard, advising motorists to drive slowly and with caution. When not in use, the troopers were stored in the school house, usually in what was called the "cloak room".
Trooper Ebbert patrolled Rt. 21 from Charleston to the Jackson County line and made friends, especially with children.
In 1957, Trooper Ebbert was promoted to First Sergeant and transferred to Company A, Shinnston, WV, where he had a massive heart attack and died at the age of 50.
Ancestry.com is offering FREE access to the Original 13 Colonies until Midnight July 4th, 2017.
Don't miss this great opportunity to access select collections within Ancestry.com for free and add them to your tree!
Click Here to Access!
The Internet is a fabulous place! Yes, it has it's downsides and can be scary. At times, I've even found it boring. What?! Boring?! A couple of weeks ago, I announced to my family that it was official.... I have searched the internet for anything and everything that I would need to search for. So, in essence, I didn't need the internet again because I know all I want to know about every esoteric topic possible. Well, that lasted a hot minute because anyone involved with Genealogy knows that every day, there is always something to research or a brick wall to tear down.
About a year ago, I joined WikiTree as a way to access, research and document Ancestors..... for free! I probably overindulged a bit because I spent every single second of spare time on WikiTree determined to link myself, my parents and my grandparents to the one big master tree that all of us belongs to. I joined groups for American History, Wars, Cemeteries, Scottish Clans and more. I truly love WikiTree because it provides tremendous free information that is actually sourced (a requirement of WikiTree) and also for the people I meet along our mutual journeys.
The internet friends that I have met, especially through WikiTree, have given me tremendous help and encouragement as I continue through my genealogy travels. On WikiTree, I joined the Virginia subproject that includes a leader that constantly cheerleads us along the way. I have asked for help with a very frustrating brick wall for a Swedish relative and a fellow WikiTree'er jumped in to not only help but also located documentation from Sweden and translated for me. And then there are friends in common that are distant distant cousins that graciously share their information, stories, pictures and love of genealogy.
One such Friend in Common is Mary Gulish. She is a distant cousin on my biological father's side of the family. We met through WikiTree. Through our email correspondence, Mary became aware of this website and offered to help.
I am happy to announce that Mary will be sharing photos starting with Floyd Westwood Cemetery in Spartanburg County, SC. Take a few moments to look at this cemetery's page. It is a large cemetery and updated often.
....and Join WikiTree to see how you fit into the big genealogy tree of humanity. It's requires sources and details from you so be prepared!
Quick note to let you know that I have just counted and I have over 5000 photographs to upload to this website just from West Virginia alone. I have about 1000 from Georgia to upload.
Now that this website has everything set and in place, I can start uploading photographs sections at a time. It's a very slow process. After the uploads have been accomplished, then I go back and re-edit each individual photograph for clarity and add a name to the caption.
If you have photographs that you have personally taken and wish to contribute to this website, please reach out to me! Our only request is that you agree with us on our Photo Policy. We will ensure, on our website, you get 100% credit for all photographs you have personally taken. We request that you agree to offer your photographs for free to the World.
I have given you snippets of what this website is about on the Home page. But I have not given you the details on why I am putting the effort into taking photographs of tombstones, creating a website to showcase them and allowing you to use them, at will, for free.
Many years ago, my Uncle, Drex King, got me hooked on family trees, family folklore/stories and Ancestry searches. That was when you went door-to-door talking to people. Thankfully, he did that. Fast forward, decades later, to Ancestry.com, My Heritage and even DNA Testing and I realized that my family Ancestry search needed to take me to the places where my people lived, worked, walked, worshiped and died. I needed to feel a connection with them and the land of West Virginia, particularly Webster and Randolph Counties, that they loved and did not stray from. My connection to them was by finding their tombstones.
This leads me to Find A Grave. In general F.A.G. is a wonderful website. I would say that it is accurate about 65% of the time. If you think that number is higher, good for you. I also have a goldmine in my backyard to sell you and my kid makes straight A's. Umm, no. I found that F.A.G. has a lot of knowledgeable contributors as well as a lot of "crazy neurotic scared you are going to use their data/photographs/memorials" contributors. Users get so possessive on F.A.G. that I find it less collaborative and more combative. The Admins are no help either. Their messages are usually founded in aggression that even a 2 year old would be fearful of. The alternative is Ancestry.com where some photographs/documents are on public trees.... but a lot are on private trees and they aren't sharing either.
We are not competing with anyone. I could care less how many photographs I have taken. I truly am not counting (except when I realize how much work I have to upload). I am drawn to the connection of my Ancestor's and their resting places and to helping others. If just one photograph solves a mystery, a brick wall or brings a connection or bond to just one person, then this project has been a success. In the past two years, by photographing cemeteries, I have tore down two of my own brick walls. I must travel to Scotland to try to tear down a couple more, darn. :)
One day, after walking through a cemetery taking photographs, my husband, Mike and I were have a beer (yes, a beer) and discussed why people are so possessive of tombstone photographs. Most of the photographs are of people that they don't even know or are so distant relatives that it shouldn't make a difference. At my cemetery where my Dad is buried, a lady saw me taking photographs and inquired what I was doing. She asked if I would take one of her husband's tombstone and post it on F.A.G. I was touched. It was then that Mike and I realized that we don't own tombstones. We might own the photographs we took of them but for what good or purpose?
So, in our very humble opinion, it is completely idiotic, stupid and just plain dumb to survey, document and photograph cemeteries and keep them on our secret hard drives away from the entire world. These photographs and this information belongs to the World. We are just conduits.
This website started in 2/2017. I have thousands of photographs to upload and not a lot of time during the week between a home schooled teenager that competes in golf competitively and constantly as well as my daily drawn out procrastination of housework. I also own a professional genealogist firm that supplies my income that allows me to do this volunteer project, pays for my lattes and pepperoni rolls. Be patient with me. This is a work in progress. In the meantime, if you have a specific request, ask me if I have the photograph. I might not have uploaded it yet. I do plan on uploading to Find A Grave, Ancestry.com and Wikitree as I go along.
The Adventure Begins.... I hope this website brings you the same connection to your Ancestors as it does for me.
Professional Genealogist. You can usually find me searching through dusty piles of papers, photographing tombstones of Ancestors and drinking lattes. Research is my life. Living in an Airstream at the Beach is my Dream.