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Cemeteries have been a part of our cultural landscape as long as people have lived in Indiana. The size, ornamentation, and documentation of these grounds vary with religious affiliation, cultural group, family wealth, and situation surrounding the person’s death. Native American burial practices varied widely depending on the time period, cultural group, and family beliefs. Both historic cemeteries and prehistoric burial areas can be found in every Indiana county.

As we buried loves ones, and markers set, we often engrave the tombstone with symbols that have religious, cultural, or personal meaning. We can learn about individuals, society, period folk art, religious specific burials, Native American burial sites, and historical trends just by looking in the cemetery. In Bedford (Lawrence County), the Green Hill Cemetery has wonderful examples of folk art. A great number of stone carvers lived and worked in Bedford due to the abundant amount of Indiana limestone there. Gravestones include intricate tree stump markers, large monuments, and life-size monuments of individuals including a man with his golf clubs and another as a World War I soldier. Some cemeteries offer more than esthetic beauty. Cemeteries offer a view to the past through the study of the inscriptions, monuments, and related records. The stones provide a valuable resource for historical research. Cemeteries can teach us about those who came before us and what was important to these people. For many individuals early in our country’s existence, their burials and subsequent markers are the only records that exist about them. In Jeffersonville (Clark County) there are cemeteries with graves of enslaved Africans that list only a first name and the word “slave.” Once the marker is lost, all reference to these individuals is gone.

Cemetery & Burial Ground Registry

The DHPA maintains a Cemetery & Burial Ground Registry for all Indiana cemeteries and burial grounds, not just “historic” cemeteries. The survey includes the cemetery’s location, number of grave markers, general assessment of the cemetery’s condition, ethnic and/or religious affiliations, special groups represented (e.g., veterans), and architectural features such as wrought iron fences, statuary, mausoleums, and formal landscape designs. Because there are approx. 20,000 cemeteries and burial grounds in Indiana, it is not possible at this time to document each grave marker, inscription, and name. The Cemetery & Burial Ground Registry can be found within the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD). The data is also linked to the Indiana Historic Buildings, Bridges, and Cemeteries (IHBBC) Map. Not all cemeteries are mapped; those where the exact location is unknown may have a SHAARD entry, but not a map point.

DHPA staff also enforce state legislation to protect historic cemeteries from development. State Law (IC 14-21-1-26.5) requires that any person planning to disturb the ground within 100 feet of a burial ground or cemetery for the purpose of erecting, altering, or repairing a structure must submit a Cemetery Development Plan to the DHPA. This law does not prohibit construction near a cemetery (if the Cemetery Development Plan is approved by the DHPA), nor does it prohibit moving cemeteries if the proper permits are acquired. This law only requires that developers’ plans take into account cemetery locations. SHAARD and the IHBBC Map can be used to determine if their planned activities will affect a cemetery or burial site in the vicinity of their project.

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