Published: 13 July 2016
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We often think that once a loved one has been buried that they will remain there forever. However, this isn’t always the case. Graves are normally bought for 50 to 75 years at a time and there is also a surprising number of families in the UK exhuming their relatives for other reasons.
The Ministry of Justice, the body responsible for exhumation in the UK, now receives around 25 requests a week, in what is a noticeable increase in exhumation. But what is causing this rise?
Why are families exhuming their relatives?
Although the decision to exhume and rebury a relative can be difficult, it is important to a lot of families. Many people are motivated by a desire to be closer to the resting place of their loved one.
Internal migration in the UK is one of the highest of all the European countries, with an average of 3.5 per cent of the population moving each year. Between July 2013 and June 2014 alone, 2.9 million Britons relocated outside of their local council area.
Migration like this inevitably leaves family members spread across the country, far away from loved ones, both those living and those laid to rest. It seems only recently, however, that people have started considering their options more, leading to this surprising number of requests.
Reburial, though, is not just about shortening long drives to visit loved ones. Some choose to relocate their relatives to a more desirable area within the same cemetery. Others are exhumed so they can be reburied with a partner who has recently passed away.
Cemetery staff are striving to meet the growing need for exhumations. A spokesperson for Brompton cemetery in West London, for example, said: “If a family wants to exhume the remains of a relative then obviously we try to help as much as possible.”
This understanding is shared by many cemeteries across the UK. For them, a benefit of relocating a loved one is that another grave becomes available. This is highly valued by some cemeteries because of growing grave shortages in certain areas.
Laying a loved one to rest somewhere more fitting
Some families feel the need to relocate their loved ones to give them a more fitting resting place. This can often mean burying them in a significant location or next to a cherished relative.
This need was highlighted in one of the most famous exhumations and reburials in modern times. In 2012, King Richard III’s remains were discovered under a municipal car park in Leicester. The former king, whose whereabouts had remained unknown for over 500 years, had been presumed lost forever.
The last King of the Plantagenet dynasty was laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral, the city where he fought his final battle as King and lost his life. To make his interment even more significant, he was entombed with earth from his birthplace, where he grew up, and the field where he died.
What could this trend mean for future burials?
Whether driven by the desire to provide a more fitting resting place or to be closer to a loved one, the surprising number of exhumations in the UK highlights the changing relationship Britons have with death, burial and those who have passed away.
In future, perhaps families will see burial as a more temporary measure. It could even lead to families choosing different ways to lay loved ones to rest, such as sea burials, woodland burials and scattering ashes.
If you feel strongly about where you’d like to be laid to rest then you should communicate this with your loved ones in advance. The best way to do this is to share your funeral wishes as part of a funeral plan.
If you are considering reburying a loved one, be sure to think carefully about your options and plan well in advance. Getting an exhumation licence alone can take up to three weeks and involves completing a 12-page application form.
IRENE A. BLAKE
29 SEP 2017
Transfer of cemetery plots occurs for various reasons. A plot owner moves from a region and no longer desires internment in that region’s cemetery, inherits a plot, purchases a plot from a different part of the cemetery or has too many spaces and purchases a smaller plot. In some instances transfer doesn’t include a sale—a co-owner decides to transfer primary plot ownership or a plot owner decides to transfer a plot to another party for the “right of burial” excluding ownership. No matter the reason, you can easily transfer cemetery plots through the office of your local cemetery director, association or township.
Contact the cemetery director or association managing the cemetery where your burial plot is located to determine if the cemetery director/association or local township handles transfers and the requirements for plot deed/title transfer for your region based on your status (owner, co-owner or heir) and the type of transfer (full transfer or “right to burial” only). In addition, ask about associated transfer fees and whether you need a copy of the deed/title.
Fill out any necessary transfer or “change of ownership” paperwork. Cemetery rules and state laws typically require your contact information (name, address and phone number), the name and address of the cemetery, the name and contact information of the plot purchaser or addition (new co-owner(s) or person receiving the “right to burial” without ownership), the reason for the transfer and your relationship to the purchaser/addition. And if you or the purchaser/addition has an affiliation with a funeral directing business, note the type of affiliation on the form.
Sign and date the form and submit it to the cemetery director, association or township representative. If a signature is required in the presence of a witness, sign and date the form in front of an approved witness—typically a notary or township clerk.
Pay any applicable fees and request a receipt for your records.
The official blog of the Catholic Cemeteries Association, Diocese of Cleveland
Maintaining graves is a very important task for our staff. Some common questions we hear involve how long it takes for a grave to settle, what the process entails, and when grass will be planted. Keep reading to learn more.
What is grave settling? Grave settling is the process of the earth (soil, clay, etc.) surrounding the burial readjusting.
How long does is take a grave to settle? The duration of time it takes for a grave to settle varies greatly on the season, type of burial, and other external factors. However, on average its takes about a year for a grave to fully settle.
What is the process of leveling a grave? Directly after the burial, the vault is surrounded by filler. While many cemeteries use only soil, we use fill sand to the top of the vault and then soil from the vault to the top of the grave. Sand is much more durable against water and therefore speeds and assists in the settling process. As the grave settles throughout the year, additional soil is added.
When will grass be planted? Grass will be planted on a grave before the grave has settled completely. Typically, the first seed application will occur within a few months of the burial, depending on the season. As the grave continues to settle throughout the year, more soil and seed are applied until the grave is level and the grass has grown in fully. Please keep in mind that grass seed cannot be planted during summer and winter months as the seeds will not germinate. We understand that leveling and seeding can cause distress to a family and we ask for your patience during the process.
When can a memorial or monument be placed? This answer varies depending on the individual situation. Many memorials can be set soon after the burial, weather permitting. The type of memorial (flush or above ground) will also affect how quickly it can be placed on a grave. It is also important to consider the production time of the memorial and if a poured cement foundation is required. Generally, memorials are not able to be set during late fall through early spring.
My relative was buried in the same state where his wife and kids were living. His family has moved back to our hometown and there is a desire to move his body to the cemetery that holds other family members and where it can be visited by those who love him.
Please no discussion about whether this is a good use of the money – that is for the family to decide.
Best answer: Grave opening and closing are a minimum of $1,000 each (at least here in New England). You’ll need a new coffin, almost certainly, so that’s at least $500 right there. You’ll have to pay a funeral director for his or her time in supervising the grave opening and the transfer of the remains–expect that to be $1,000 to $2,000.
Transporting the remains will cost a bundle, whether the casket is driven from one locality to another by hearse, or driven to the airport by hearse, flown to the new state, and picked up at the airport by hearse. Not knowing the two locations, I give you an off-the-cuff estimate of $2,000 for that.
When the casket arrives in the new location, you’ve got the grave opening and closing on that end, and depending on your state and municipal laws you may need a funeral director’s involvement, so that’s another $1,500 to $2,000. Then having the gravestone engraved is going to run you $400 and up.
So something like $10,000 to $15,000 seems like a reasonable estimate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:50 AM on February 19, 2012
Best answer: I am a professional undertaker and I do this several times a year.
A lot of your cost depends on how he was originally buried, and how long it’s been since the burial. Best case scenario: buried within the past 20 years or so in metal casket within a concrete or metal vault. After Hurricane Rita, vaulted caskets that had been buried for over twenty years were found intact dozens of miles from where they’d been originally buried.
Worst case scenario: unvaulted, wooden casket. I’ll tell you what I tell my families: what you are moving is not your loved ones remains, but the IDEA of their remains. You may find a scrap of cloth or a large bone, but wood returns to the earth pretty quickly. If it’s been less than five years, it could be a pretty grisly process.
We charge in the area of $5000 for the process, which can be quite labor intensive. Then, you have transportation fees, state permits (that are sometimes necessary), and all of that is hindered by when the weather allows for it. We won’t do it on a rainy day. Way too messy.
Travel will almost certainly be overland, not airfreight. The weight of the vaulted casket would be cost prohibitive.
In many cases, families have instead opted to have a headstone placed in their preferred cemetery with an acknowledgement that his body lies elsewhere. Feel free to ask any other questions here or by email.
posted by ColdChef at 11:37 AM on February 19, 2012 [28 favorites]
Cold Chef: is it possible to get the remains exhumed, then cremate and ship for much less?
Assuming that would be agreeable to the OP and family.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:35 PM on February 19, 2012
Response by poster: My relative died six years ago, buried in a Jewish cemetery.
Would the casket have to be wood if it was a Jewish (Reform) funeral? I can ask someone who knows but not ready to that yet.
So, if it was wood, it sounds like there may not be much to move? or just too grisly/smelly?
It is common for a cemetery to accept a headstone without any grave? Any special considerations, if we wanted to do that?
Any other suggestions for a family that feels uncomfortable with idea of leaving him alone with the gravesite un-visted? ColdChef – I get that this just about the IDEA of his body but that is a potent, emotional idea that particularly for certain parts of the family.
posted by metahawk at 10:44 PM on February 21, 2012
I don’t handle many Jewish services (I can think of only one in recent memory), but I seem to recall that a wooden casket was necessary. My point about the IDEA of the body is that the wooden casket would most likely have deteriorated and melded back with the earth and so there would not be anything solid to exhume. You would just dig up the dirt where the casket had been.
After six years, I’m afraid that it would not be a pretty process. Realistically, they would be exhuming the partially deteriorated body of their loved one. A skeleton with clothes packed in discolored dirt. In fact, sometimes that’s the only way we can tell that we’re exhuming a place where the casket had been: the soil is a different color.
I can’t see any reason why a cemetery wouldn’t accept a headstone without a grave. You would still have to purchase the grave space, though. And those can be expensive.
I wish I had better advice for you. If he was buried straight in the ground, in a wooden casket, without a vault, six years ago it is very unlikely that you’d be able to move his body intact. In that kind of situation, when we do it (and we’ve done it a few times), the family would purchase another vault or casket, we’d exhume what we could (bones, scraps of wood, clothes, discolored soil) and put it into the new container and then bury that. There is no guarantee that you’d get all of him. And that grave would likely never be used again. Because who wants a used grave?
There may be specific Jewish aspects I’m missing here, so it may be a good idea to contact the original cemetery directly and ask their advice. Good luck.
posted by ColdChef at 4:47 AM on February 22, 2012
Every year, hundreds apply to exhume family members and transport them across the country. Shouldn’t we let them rest in peace?
Glastonbury cemetery . last resting place? Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA
Glastonbury cemetery . last resting place? Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA
Last modified on Mon 25 Nov 2019 12.22 GMT
W e carry the dead with us. They remain in our hearts, in our minds. Now, the Ministry of Justice has revealed that some of us go as far as physically carrying the dead. For a few years, the government department has received around 25 applications a week from people looking to exhume the buried remains of their relatives.
This might call to mind images of satanic rituals under the cover of darkness, but the main reasons are practical and domestic. People moving from one side of the country to the other apply to have the buried remains of their parents (it’s usually parents) moved with them so that they can better attend their graves. In order to do this, they have to fill out a 12-page MoJ application form that includes the written agreement of whoever is in charge of the “cemetery, churchyard or crematorium where the remains are to be reburied or cremated”. Applications are then normally decided within 20 days.
The idea of a portable grave is not something that sits easily with the Church of England. “The permanent burial of the physical body, or the burial of cremated remains, should be seen as a symbol of our entrusting the person to God for resurrection,” a spokesman told the Sunday Express. Once we are in the cold ground, we have been laid to rest and prepared for our passage into the realm beyond. A 300-mile trip up the motorway is not going to help matters.
The cemeteries themselves seem less concerned. A spokesperson for Brompton cemetery in west London said: “If a family wants to exhume the remains of a relative then obviously we try to help as much as possible.” Other council-run services confirmed this approach. Their duty is to who owns the plot.
At Brompton at least, if a plot is emptied, it continues to belong to whoever owns it. Usually, that means the relative of whoever has been removed. So they can leave it empty or keep it free for someone else.
However, if your relative found their way into an exclusive cemetery, you are unlikely to want to remove them from it. “We have no experience of that here,” someone at the historic private Highgate cemetery told me when I asked about exhumation.
Remains are not always exhumed to be reburied elsewhere. The MOJ says that other common reasons include the scattering of cremated remains, the cremation of buried remains, the moving of remains to another part of the same burial ground and the reinterment of remains in the same grave, normally so that family members can be buried side-by-side.
All sensible reasons, but ones to consider carefully, particularly if you are God-fearing. The dead, now hopefully at peace, are not lightly moved.
Business Issues with a Legal Slant
A huge fan of the Hill Country, Skare D. Katz buys a large piece of undeveloped land from the Solable Family outside of Austin. Skare D. plans to build a ranch for retirement. One Saturday while Skare D. is visiting the property to visualize his plans, a woman shows up and stands underneath a large oak tree, staring at the ground. Skare D. approaches the woman and asks her for her name. The woman responds, “Inka Solable.” When Scare D. asks Inka what she’s doing there, Inka responds, “This is where my great-grandfather is buried. I come pay my respects every Saturday.” Dumbfounded, Skare D. responds, “Ma’am, I appreciate that, but I own this property now. I don’t want you coming by every Saturday.” Inka replies, “I have a right under the law to access this property when I want. I’ll see you in Court!” Is Inka right?
Can you bury someone on private property in Texas?
Most likely yes. The state defines a “cemetery” as a place used for interment that contains “one or more graves” and has specific references to “private family cemeteries.” In order to be able to bury family members on your land, the family plot must comply with the location requirements in the Texas Health and Safety Code, as well as any municipal or county ordinance. The Texas Cemeteries Association maintains a handout for establishing a family cemetery.
Can anyone access my private property to visit a family cemetery?
Yes. If there is no public access to the cemetery, Texas law provides that any person wishing to visit the cemetery must have reasonable access to visit during reasonable hours. To control access, the property owner may designate in writing the route to access the family cemetery and the reasonable hours for visitation.
If the property owner has designated the reasonable hours for visiting the property, a person wishing to visit the property at other hours may submit written notice to the owner at least 14 days before the visit identifying the hour(s) when the person wants to visit. If those hours are reasonable the property owner must give the visitor access to the cemetery.
What if I didn’t know that my property contains a family cemetery?
You’re still required to comply with the law, but you may have a claim against the person who sold you the property if the family cemetery is not recorded in the county deed records and the seller failed to mention it in the seller’s disclosure form.
Tilting the Scales in Your Favor
There are two morals to this story: (1) do your due diligence before buying any property; and (2) if you buy property that contains a family cemetery and someone wants to visit, react reasonably to the situation.
If a cemetery was once on your property and the bodies were supposed to have been reinterred elsewhere, it can have disastrous consequences if you’re doing some building and dig up some old bones.
A story in the Chatham Daily News explains why. Heather and Jack Tape bought a property on Stanley Ave. in Chatham last year and planned to build a new home there. Halfway through construction, the remains of two bodies were found. It turns out that the property was once owned by St. Paul’s Anglican Church and the church had a cemetery. When the congregation moved to the Christ Anglican Church in 1861, the bodies were supposed to have been moved to Chatham’s Maple Leaf Cemetery.
They missed some. Now construction has ground to a halt.
It turns out that, in 1999, bodies were discovered nearby when Chatham municipal workers were installing a waterline. The church hired a private contractor to move the graves so that a rail line could be built through the area.
In the meantime, the municipality issued a building permit to Tapes and did not warn them about what they might find.
According to Michael D’Mello, Registrar of Cemeteries, under the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services, which administers the Ontario Funeral Burial and Cremations Services Act, says it is the homeowner’s responsibility to fix the problem. The costs include an archeological assessment to determine how many bodies might still be buried and moving the bones elsewhere for between $500 and $1,000 each.
In the Chatham case, the lawsuits have not started yet as to whether this should be the responsibility of the Anglican Church, which sold the property long ago, the municipality or the owners. It is hoped that the situation can still be worked out amicably.
There is an Ontario government website under the Ministry of Consumer Services where anyone can search to see if there ever was a cemetery registered on their lands. You can enter the street address, the lot, plan, concession, Municipality and County. Here is the link
There is also a list of burial sites, which may not be accurate or complete, that can be accessed by sending an email to [email protected] .
Most developers will have their lawyers conduct these searches when buying vacant land that they wish to build on. They may also require that an archeological assessment be done if there is any suspicion that there were bodies interred on the lands at one point.
If a seller knows that there may have been a cemetery or burial plot on their lands in the past, then in my opinion, it should always be disclosed to any buyer. It probably creates a stigma on the property, whether or not the bodies were moved elsewhere.
If you are not sure, also include a clause in any real estate contract that the seller has no knowledge of any cemetery or burial plot having existed on the land. A seller must respond honestly to this, if they know.
If you must move a cemetery . . .
It’s never something you want to think about, and it should always be the choice of last resort, but there are times when a cemetery has to be moved in order to preserve and protect the remains. How this is done is established by state law. In South Carolina it is Section 27-43-10 through 40.
This is an example of a scoop and dump – the laborers are excavating in a manner that virtually insures no remains will be found and are walking all over any remains that might be there – causing yet further damage.
Worker standing in the grave virtually ensures that northing will be found.
The problem is that low bid firms hired by the governing body or the funeral director have no knowledge in osteology (human skeletal remains), period burial practices (like the types of coffins used during different periods or the social status that different practices reflect), or even how to best excavate human remains. Often these low-bid firms use backhoes to scoop up some soil and dump it in a pasteboard box, claiming that no bone would be left anyway. Or sometimes the laborers they hire have no idea what they are actually looking for. The result – human remains are disrespected by being overlooked, damaged, and destroyed.
T hese are human remains left behind after a scoop and dump removal.
There is an alternative – the use of forensic anthropologists to remove human remains. These individuals are trained in the excavation and analysis of skeletal material – they can recognize even small, fragmentary bones. And they are trained to recognize different coffin fragments, handles, clothing, and other remains that might be preserved. We believe that only appropriately-trained personnel should be involved in the excavation and recovery of all human remains, whether ancient or recent. Baseline qualifications for archaeologists are available from the Secretary of the Interior. We also support guidelines for professional qualifications and conduct established by the Register of Professional Archaeologists and the Society for American Archaeology. The controlled excavation and collection of human remains takes a significant amount of time, often measured in days. Professional archaeologists will not violate standard professional protocol for burial excavation unless significant extenuating conditions, such as safety or severe weather, are present. Thus, the involvement of professional archaeologists in burial excavation and removal will always slow the rate of processing at the site.
Professional exposure of the grave, casket, and skeletal remains.
There are a number of studies that a trained forensic anthropologist will want to undertake should it be necessary to remove human remains — and these studies are critical in the process of “the dead teaching the living.” For example, samples will be taken to help identify any parasites (such as hookworm or tapeworm) or insects that might have been present. This information can help us better understand the disease and diet of the individual, as well as provide information concerning the treatment of the corpse. It is at times possible to obtain information through DNA analysis on blood grouping, HLA typing, and antibody absorption — all efforts that while time consuming and expensive provide otherwise unavailable genetic information. A new technique, called histomorthometrics, allows microscopic age determination by thin sectioning long bones. Carbon isotope analysis is useful in determining the diet of the population. Trace element analysis can also address a broad range of questions about diet and contamination or poisoning of an individual. While some tests are destructive and may be unacceptable to families, there are also nondestructive techniques (such as X-ray fluorescence, electron microprobe, and neutron activation). Bones can also be examined for evidence of heavy metals to address other questions concerning diet and disease.
Sufficient time should be allocated for the scientific study of human remains and grave goods prior to reburial. Periods measured in hours or days are unreasonably short and fail to allow the full investigation of the recovered remains. Weeks or months are more appropriate in most cases.
FAQs About Cemetery and Burial Relocations
A developer bought the land my family cemetery is on and has obtained the permission of the local government to move my cemetery. Will they be required to use a forensic anthropologist?
Forensic anthropologists and archaeologists are specially trained to ensure the complete, and respectful, recovery of human remains.
No. They will only be required to hire a funeral director. Then they are allowed to get the cheapest bid they can find for digging up your loved ones. You can, however, insist that a forensic anthropologist be hired – remember, state law gives you a say in the matter.
I’ve heard that archaeologists are ghouls who only want to dig up bones to study them.
You’ve heard wrong. We here at Chicora would prefer never to move a burial, much less a cemetery. But if human remains must be moved we believe that – with the family’s permission – the remains have the potential to tell us a great deal about life here in South Carolina. By studying human remains we have the opportunity to learn things that are in no history book or family diary. This is an opportunity for the dead to teach the living – to provide a continuing legacy.
Will archaeologists dig up or study my ancestor’s bones without my permission?
Interior of a vault being studied by forensic anthropologists to determine construction methods and how the vault was used during the Colonial period.
Will an archaeologist be more expensive?
Possibly. But there is a world of difference between skilled, careful excavation and a backhoe. You need to make the decision how valuable your family remains are and what you feel is the appropriate level of respect to show them.
Are all the tests you talk about really necessary?
If a grave must be moved, there is that one opportunity to allow the dead to teach the living. If a family is willing to allow their loved one to be examined, yes, these tests are necessary since they provide a rare glimpse into the past that would not otherwise be available. Moving a grave is traumatic — at least this level of investigation provides some positive outcome, providing a legacy of information. ” Mortui Vivos Docent ” is Latin for “The dead teach the living” — expressing the hope that in even in death there can be much learned.
What else do forensic archaeologists do?
We can identify the boundaries of a cemetery, how many graves are in a family plot (even those that are unmarked), and we can examine the construction techniques of different vaults to help you determine the best means of repairing them. We can even examine coffin remains to help date the materials. Forensic archaeologists also work with law enforcement to identify and recovery crime victims. See more on our Forensic Archaeology page.