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Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory

The Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory Project has been an ongoing effort by Peerless Rockville, Historic Takoma, and the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites to identify and document the county’s numerous burial grounds. The project’s purpose is to create a baseline of information so that decision-making is informed, actions can be taken and policies developed – all with the goal of protecting the county’s historic cemeteries for future generations.

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Background

Introduction
Project Summary
Recommendations
Resources Consulted
Cemetery Bibliography

Introduction

GravestoneThe Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) awarded a grant to Peerless Rockville and Historic Takoma in 2004 for the first phase of the project. An initial Microsoft Access database was created of all known cemeteries and a group of dedicated volunteers, coordinated by Project Director Anne Brockett, began the work of surveying each one. In 2005, Phase II built on the database, expanding it and working on a GIS map showing the locations of each cemetery and creating a list of the county’s most threatened cemeteries. You may view a PDF map of cemetery locations here.

In 2006, Phase III united the considerable information that has been gathered into several usable formats, continued to identify and document the condition of historic cemeteries in Montgomery County, and put forward a call for action on this matter.

To learn more about guidelines for evaluating and registering cemeteries and burial places, you may wish to view the National Park Service's online bulletin covering this topic.

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Project Summary

Rounded MarkerAll cemeteries known to have ever existed in Montgomery County have been included even if the graves are known to have been moved or they could not be located. Their current status is clearly noted in the database. Every effort has been made to be as inclusive of every known burial place county-wide, including all religious denominations, enslaved, free black, and Native American. Due to the sensitive nature of their location, a separate database and GIS map of Native American cemeteries, prepared by County Archaeologist Jim Sorensen, is also included. If you desire access to this information for research purposes, you may make a request for consideration with the Montgomery County Office of Archeology at 301-840-5848. The project has been peer reviewed by local historians and cemetery experts, including Mike Dwyer, Linda Layman, Jim Sorensen, Eileen McGuckian, and Janet Manuel, for accuracy and completeness.

Briefly, the results of all three phases of work on the Inventory project are as follows:

  • A total of 269 cemeteries are in the Inventory.
  • 18 of them have been relocated, usually from a family farm to a public cemetery.
  • The specific location of 47 cemeteries is unknown, although their general vicinity is.
  • 13 of these 47 may be locatable with more research.
  • The other 34 are believed to have disappeared, and further research is not likely to assist in their location. These cemeteries are identified in the database as “lost.”

The Inventory consists of five interrelated parts: a Microsoft Access database, a GIS map, digital photographs, printed inventory forms, and paper files. Each of the 269 cemeteries is represented in all parts of the Inventory.

  1. The Microsoft Access database contains a record of each cemetery and gives each a unique identification number. The database can be manipulated to list different fields in order (i.e. alpha-numeric order by cemetery name, location, dates of burials, etc.) to make searching easy. In addition, it can be searched by any keyword in all fields. The Access database has been saved on CD for the County and Peerless Rockville, although it could be made available to other interested parties at the County’s discretion.
  2. The GIS map pulls in information from the Access database to create a map. This map can be digitally added as a layer to other county maps and aerial photographs. Using GPS satellite technology, survey volunteers recorded the exact location of each cemetery using mobile GPS units. This system allows cemetery locations to be pinpointed on a computer generated map and is much more specific than using ADC or other paper map coordinates. However, ADC coordinates (map number and grid location) were also taken, using the 2004 ADC Montgomery County map as a backup and for use by those who do not have access to GIS to view the digital map.
    On the GIS map, pink markers identify cemeteries that have been positively located and GPS coordinates recorded. Cemeteries whose specific locations are unknown are identified with green markers. Their locations are approximate and are based on historic records and map research. The GIS map has been provided on CD to the County and Peerless Rockville.
  3. Volunteers took digital photographs of every cemetery that was located. These images document the appearance and condition at the time of the survey. They are also helpful in locating each cemetery in relation to other elements within the photo frame. They are arranged by ID number and saved on CD along with an index of cemeteries by name and location.
  4. Printed inventory forms are included in a three-ring binder. These have been generated using an Access report, which allows the Access table information to print in a readable format – with one cemetery per page. The design of the report is based on the field survey form with the same field names. Printed indexes of the cemeteries by NAME and by LOCATION (town) have also been included for quick reference.  Binders containing the 269 inventory forms are located at M-NCPPC and at Peerless Rockville.
  5. Each cemetery has a paper file, a manila file folder labeled by cemetery name, ID number, and location. In each file are the original survey form filled out by volunteers in the field, articles, and photocopies of records related to the cemetery. Some files have copies of the applicable ADC map page and/or a copy of the description from the Directory of Maryland Burial Grounds. When there is additional information in the paper file, the inventory form will state “see file for more information.” The paper files are housed at the Montgomery County Historical Society and may be reviewed by appointment.

Also included in the final documents are copies of all the paperwork used by volunteers to complete the survey work – the survey form itself, photo log, GPS log, condition checklist, and property access letter.  State laws referencing cemeteries have also been added to the documentation.

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Recommendations

MarkerThe Inventory and the accompanying information should serve as a starting point to initiate a responsible approach to the question of what to do with these unique resources. To many, cemeteries are an important link to our past – providing historical and genealogical data, information on settlement patterns, burial practices, and the changes in how Americans regard death and grief. To many others, they are viewed as an obstacle or an inconvenience. How can or should these views be balanced? What should the County’s role be in addressing the situation and reaching any compromises?

The final report for Phase II (2005) of the project made a number of recommendations that warrant further discussion and consideration. Among the recommendations were to:

  • Research other county and state programs, ordinances, and resources regarding cemetery protection
  • Determine policies for how Montgomery County will manage this historic resource type
  • Outreach to owners and the public on the cultural, artistic, educational, and historical importance of cemeteries
  • Provide technical advice to cemetery owners and a network for linking owners with resources
  • Develop partnerships to preserve cemeteries among historians, archaeologists, planners, developers, owners, community groups, and non-profit

The Phase II report also included the “Preservation Watch List,” a list of 20 cemeteries whose condition is so poor that their very existence may be threatened. This Watch List should be used to begin implementing the above recommendations, particularly regarding education and outreach to owners. The list must also be maintained, adding cemeteries that become threatened or removing those that receive attention. It could be used for awarding funding for restoration and for prioritizing clean-up and repair efforts.

Another recommendation from Phase II is to create a cemetery register, which lists the County’s most significant cemeteries and establishes the criteria for registration. The list would be an official recognition of the County’s most important burial grounds. The register’s purpose is twofold – it would provide a framework to continue working on cemetery preservation issues and it may be a way to ensure better protection of cemeteries.

Analysis of the Inventory shows that cemeteries that have been officially designated as historic are generally in better condition that those that are not. There are 62 cemeteries that have been individually designated as historic sites in the County’s Master Plan or are associated with larger designated properties, such as churches or farms. In addition, four cemeteries are designated within City of Rockville historic districts. Of the 66 designated cemeteries, four have been lost, two were relocated, and one has not yet been located. The table below shows that the ratio of cemeteries in excellent and good condition increased and the ratio of those in poor condition decreased with official recognition as a historic site.

Condition

Not Designated

Designated Historic

Excellent

28%

32%

Good

24%

36%

Fair

22%

22%

Poor

26%

10%

Listing on a register, therefore, would seem to be a catalyst to preservation, through better maintenance and protection. It could also be used as a tool for funding, much like historic designation of a building which makes an owner eligible for historic preservation tax incentives. In Howard County, for instance, inactive historic cemeteries listed in their Inventory are eligible to apply for tax credits for rehabilitation work.

What became clear through this project is that some group or organization will need to take on the tasks creating a cemetery register, maintaining the Watch List, and implementing the other recommendations listed above. It is therefore recommended that Montgomery County create a cemetery commission, which would serve the Planning Board, Historic Preservation Commission, and/or County Council in an advisory capacity on matters involving cemeteries. 

Creation of a cemetery advisory board or commission would require action by the Council and/or County Executive, and would be a critical step in the education and preservation process. Creation of a board would involve approaching the Councilmembers and County Executive’s staff to educate them on the necessity of such a board. Copies of the Inventory and this report summarizing the project could be distributed. Support for a board could and should be garnered from the staff of the Historic Preservation Commission, the HPC itself, County historical societies, preservation groups, and cemetery preservation groups such as the Association for Gravestone Studies, the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, and friends groups or other organizations dedicated to individual cemeteries. The criteria for board appointments could be drafted in advance and potential members lined up to serve. In addition, a task list should be drafted to get the board on track as soon as it is formed. There are dedicated individuals in the County who would willingly serve on such a board and who possess the motivation to take action toward the protection of our County’s numerous historic cemeteries. 

Some of the important tasks that need to be addressed by a cemetery board are as follows:

  • Create a cemetery register, including criteria for listing in the register
  • Identify owners using land and tax records
  • Record location of cemeteries with the Maryland Department of Assessments
  • Outreach to owners with information on the importance of maintaining cemeteries on their property, and instructing them on how to do it
  • Make the Inventory information and map web accessible
  • Disseminate information about the Inventory via the internet, press releases, and/or a publication
  • Maintain and update the existing Cemetery Preservation Watch List
  • Working with existing laws and planning processes, develop preservation strategies such as developing an Adopt-a-Cemetery program, where a community organization would be responsible for an individual cemetery’s upkeep
  • Meet with the HPC regarding possible designations of historically significant cemeteries
  • Sponsor public workshops on the proper techniques to clean stones, reset markers, or research the history of a cemetery, among other topics
  • Provide technical advice to cemetery owners, put them on a schedule for regular maintenance, and provide funds for stone or fence restoration
  • Establish a fund for assistance in maintenance and repair

While a non-profit or other group could potentially take on the tasks identified above, official sanctioning by the County would give a level of authority and allow for more effective work toward the goal of cemetery preservation. As an alternative, the Montgomery County Cemetery Coalition, the informal group that initially proposed the Inventory, could take on some of these roles. But with a board or commission, with requirements for regularly held meetings, noticing, open meetings, and a tangible workplan, there would be an obligation for its members to produce results. In addition, other counties have active cemetery commissions in place. The Howard County Cemetery Preservation Board, for instance, could serve as a model for implementing legislation, mission statement, appointment criteria, etc.

Protection of cemeteries becomes possible only when they are recognized for their historic, cultural, and artistic value. Formal recognition by the County, through an advisory board and cemetery register, would allow steps toward protection, promotion, and planning to become possible. A cemetery commission or advisory board would provide the necessary expertise, time, and motivation to manage the future of cemeteries and, working through the County, to use the Inventory and Watch List to their highest potential.

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Resources Consulted

Lamb MarkerThe initial list of cemeteries in the Inventory came from the Directory of Maryland Burial Grounds. This 1996 publication contains locational information on cemeteries in Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Carroll, and Montgomery Counties. It provides a description of condition, date range of burials, and location of additional information. Unfortunately, the location description can be vague (e.g. Route 28 between Darnestown and Dawsonville) and the ADC map used dates to the 1970s or 80s and the map numbers and grids have since changed.

Ridgely’s Historic Graves of Maryland and the District of Columbia, initially published in 1908, also provided information on several obscure family cemeteries in the county, but again, the location was often the current owner’s name. 

A copy of the M-NCPPC’s Locational Atlas and Master Plan sites, including sites that have been removed; was used to identify properties with burial grounds and provide the historic resource numbers. Historic maps, particularly the 1879 Hopkins Atlas and Martenet and Bond's 1865 Map of Montgomery County, proved useful for correlating historic property owners with today’s roads to approximate locations of some cemeteries.

Also consulted were J. Thomas Scharf’s seminal History of Western Maryland, Roger Farquhar’s Old Homes and History of Montgomery County, Dona Cuttler’s Genealogical Companion to Rural Montgomery County Cemeteries, and Clare Cavicchi’s Places from the Past. Published local histories of communities; various family histories; Montgomery County land records, tax records, and will indexes; and websites such as interment.net, rootsweb and the attendant UnGenWeb pages for Montgomery County, and accessgenealogy.com were also utilized.

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Cemetery Bibliography

  • PlanterAnson-Cartwright, Tamara. Landscapes of Memories: A Guide for Conserving Historic Cemeteries, Repairing Tombstones. Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 1997.
  • Brown, John Gary. Soul in the Stone: Cemetery Art from America’s Heartland. University Press of Kansas, 1994.
  • Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo. Your Guide to Cemetery Research. Betterway Books, 2002.
  • Keister, Douglas. Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Gibbs Smith, 2004.
  • Llewellyn, John F. A Cemetery Should Be Forever. Tropico Press, 1999.
  • Ludwig, Allen. Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and its Symbols, 1650-1815. Wesleyan University Press, 1966.

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