Frequently Asked Cemetery Questions

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To find out if the Office of State Archaeology has a cemetery recorded or to access information on a cemetery, contact OSA staff (melissa.timo@ncdcr.gov or 919-814-6562). Be sure to have an approximate address, nearby road or landmark, or coordinates (like latitude and longitude) ready to facilitate the search. It is important to note that the NC Site File only contains a collection of archaeology sites, historic structures, and cemeteries that have been reported to the state. This means that the state may not have any information recorded. To help fill in knowledge gaps and help protect historic North Carolina cemeteries, please consider completing an NC Citizen Cemetery Form. Visit our website to find the NC Citizen Cemetery Form and instructions page.

If the cemetery was established at least 50 years ago or more, download the NC Citizens Cemetery Form and review the North Carolina Citizen Cemetery Site Form instructions page. Fill it out the form and send it to OSA using the contact information listed. Staff will integrate the information into our databases and assign it an official site number. A copy of the assigned number will be sent back to you. Contact OSA staff for assistance.

First of all, do not remove or touch anything. Immediately contact the county medical examiner, or local law enforcement if you are unsure who that may be. Exposed bones may be associated with criminal activity (homicide, grave vandalism, etc.) or may otherwise require the attention of trained law enforcement personnel. See North Carolina General Statute § 70-29 for more information about this process.

Please also note that it is a felony in North Carolina to knowingly acquire, exhibit, sell, or retain human skeletal remains acquired from unmarked burials. See NC General Statute § 70-37 for more information. Additionally, it is also a felony to knowingly and willfully disturb, destroy, remove, vandalize, or desecrate human remains that have been interred in a cemetery. See NC General Statute §14-149(a1) for more information. Report any violations to local law enforcement.

If you notice that a cemetery, including human remains, graves, grave markers, caskets, or other grave or graveside artifacts, or fences or walls, report the damage to the local law enforcement. See NC General Statute § 70-37§ 14-127.1§ 14-144§ 14-148§ 14-149, and § 14-401.22 for more information.

See generally NC General Statute Chapter 65 for access to abandoned or neglected cemeteries.

See G.S. § 65-101 and § 65-102 for entering public or private property to maintain or visit a grave with or without consent.

Cemeteries and human remains on public and private land may be protected by North Carolina law. Knowingly or willfully disturbing, damaging, or vandalizing a cemetery or human remains may be illegal. See NC General Statutes § 70-37§ 14-127.1§ 14-144§ 14-148§ 14-149, and § 14-401.22 for more information. Report incidents to local law enforcement. Finally, for additional protection, consider recording your family cemetery for the NC Site File. Visit our website to find the NC Citizen Cemetery form and instructions page.

There is no North Carolina law that requires landowners to maintain cemeteries on their properties. However, knowingly or willfully disturbing, damaging, or vandalizing a cemetery or human remains may be illegal. See NC General Statutes § 70-37§ 14-127.1§ 14-144§ 14-148§ 14-149, and § 14-401.22 for more information.

See G.S. § 65-101 and § 65-102 for entering public or private property to maintain or visit a grave with or without consent.

See G.S. § 65-106 for disinterment, removal, and reinterment of graves by state and federal agencies, public institutions, churches, electric power or lighting companies, or private landowners.

At this time, the Office of State Archaeology and the State of North Carolina do not have funds for maintenance, restoration, survey, or study (including ground-penetrating radar surveys) of historic cemeteries. There are some federally-administered grant opportunities for which you may be eligible. If your cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, contact the NC Historic Preservation Office for NR-associated grant programs. Local historic preservation grants, community foundation grants, educational grants, Certified Local Government grant programs, and fundraising may aid you if your cemetery is not on the National Register. Contact OSA staff for further guidance about applying for those funds (melissa.timo@ncdcr.gov or 919-814-6562).

The Office of State Archaeology considers a cemetery “historic” if it was founded at least 50 years ago. This definition applies to active, inactive, and abandoned cemeteries and burial grounds. This designation is a recognition of age and does not afford any additional protections beyond those already provided by NC law. See NC General Statutes § 70-37§ 14-127.1§ 14-144§ 14-148§ 14-149, and § 14-401.22 for more information. Listing historic cemeteries with the North Carolina Site File does help the state preemptively mitigate any impact and preserve information about the cemetery and the communities in which they are located. Visit our website to find an NC Citizen Cemetery Form and the instructions.

Additional protections may apply if the cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Successfully receiving designation as a historic site on the National Register means an applicant has demonstrated that the cemetery meets one of the following criteria (A) that it is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; (B) that it is associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; (C) that it embodies distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or (D) that it has the potential to yield information important in prehistory or history.

While cemeteries are not generally eligible for the National Register, as archaeological sites, burials may meet Criterion D by yielding information important to our understanding of history or prehistory. The National Park Service provides a discussion of these issues in the publications entitled Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Archaeological Properties (2000) and Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places (1992). For additional guidance on the National Register and how to complete an application, visit the NC Historic Preservation Office website

Have additional questions about North Carolina cemeteries? Contact Melissa Timo, Historic Cemetery Specialist at melissa.timo@ncdcr.gov or 919-814-6562.

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