Abandoned Cemeteries

Damaged headstone, Welaka (Image FS852493 from Florida State Archives).
Cemeteries and Human Remains in Florida, Caring for Human Burial Sites and Responding to Discoveries of Human Remains


Cemeteries, burials, and human remains have a special place in all human cultures from earliest times to the present. Special care for ancestors and for the dead is one of the defining traits of being human. Few concerns in our daily lives rise to the same level of importance as ensuring the respectful and proper treatment of the dead. Families, communities, and governments go to great lengths to recover missing human remains and ensure a respectful final resting place. Every day we read and hear of efforts to bring proper closure to the death of a loved one, so that relatives and friends can get back to their daily lives.

It is no surprise that we have developed a complicated system of laws, regulations and practices for proper treatment of the dead. Most of the time families make arrangements with funeral directors for burial in a cemetery, and trust that the care will be responsible and perpetual. There are many exceptions, however, and this web site offers guidance on how to respond to situations that frequently arise outside the context of active cemeteries.

Situations involving cemeteries and human remains are complicated, not only from a legal standpoint, but also personally and emotionally. This web page is organized by broad topics that reflect common problems or events, and that will lead you to the information you need to respond appropriately and legally. Two publications on caring for historic cemeteries in Florida have helped many communities follow good preservation procedures. These are now available online:

Florida's Historic Cemeteries, A Preservation Handbook. Sharyn Thompson with Lynette Strangstad.

Historic African American and African Caribbean Cemeteries: A Selected Bibliography. Compiled by Sharyn Thompson.

Here are some common questions and links to useful information:

  • What are the applicable laws and regulations?
  • How should law enforcement and medical examiner officials response?
  • What are the rights and responsibilities of landowners?
  • Do I need to consult with an attorney?
  • How can I contact law enforcement?
  • What is the Florida Master Site File, and what does it mean to be included?
  • What is the role of the State Archaeologist and Division of Historical Resources?
  • Where can I learn more?
  • Where can I find people, agencies, organizations and other helpful resources in my county?
  • How have problems like mine already been resolved?
  • What should I do and not do to maintain a historic cemetery?
  • What is NAGPRA and when does it apply?