Why preserve or protect cemeteries? They are memorials to the
past that offer a unique view of our history, culture, and way
of life. Their existence adds much to our understanding of the
history of Illinois and its people.
here to view the Cemetery Preservation Fact Sheet.
Preserving Illinois Cemeteries
The first Illinois laws protecting historically significant
cemeteries were enacted in 1851. Since that time the state legislature
has passed a number of laws governing the management of public
cemeteries, including sales and ownership, the creation of local
cemetery authorities, burial places of Illinois soldiers and
sailors, and the care and maintenance of cemeteries. Those laws
encourage local government and private organizations to maintain,
regulate, and protect cemeteries. Also established by law are
provisions for creating a local cemetery authority when none
In 1989, Illinois passed into law the Human Skeletal Remains
Protection Act (20 ILCS 3440; 17 IAC 4170). This law protects
from disturbance all graves, grave markers (including burial
mounds), and grave artifacts that are over 100 years old and
are not located in a cemetery that is registered with the Illinois
Office of the State Comptroller. This Act offers protection
from vandalism, excavation (including cultivation), removal,
exposure, defacement, and destruction. The Illinois Historic
Preservation Agency administers this Act. Vandalism in cemeteries
destroys our history and the stories of the individuals who
lived before us. It takes many forms – overturned monuments,
discarded beer cans and trash, graffiti – and is a Class
C misdemeanor. Tips to prevent vandalism are available in Stones
and Statutes: Laws Governing Illinois Cemeteries.
For cemeteries protected under the Human Skeletal Remains Protection
Act (HSRPA), anyone wanting to probe the ground to locate and
recover buried grave markers or to clean, repair, and reset
grave markers must first obtain a permit from the Illinois Historic
Preservation Agency. Each of these activities represents a disturbance
to the ground (grave) or to a grave marker. The permitting process
ensures that the proper methods and products are used when working
to preserve a historic cemetery. In addition, the IHPA requires
that permit applicants attend the Cemetery Preservation Training,
Basic Workshop. Information on the workshop is provided below.
Skeletal Remains Protection Act (20 ILCS 3440; 17 IAC 4170)
and Statutes: Laws Governing Illinois Cemeteries
Skeletal Remains Protection Act - Permit Application
The Illinois Historic Cemetery Preservation Handbooks
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) is responsible
for protecting nonregistered Illinois cemeteries that are more
than 100 years old. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources
(IDNR) owns and manages over 50 cemeteries statewide. Together
both agencies have hosted workshops and provided guidance to
numerous groups responsible for maintaining and preserving cemeteries.
This series of handbooks provides basic and advanced information
for individuals or groups who wish to embark on a successful
cemetery preservation program.
The IHPA and the IDNR have developed a series of instruction
handbooks to help guide you through a cemetery preservation
project. They were developed in response to the many inquires
both agencies have received. Most often, those questions focused
on how to clean and repair gravestones, sources of assistance,
and the laws that govern cemeteries. The first handbook, “Illinois
Historic Cemetery Preservation Handbook: A Guide to Basic Preservation,”
focuses on research, planning, and documentation. It is important
that you research the cemetery, document what is present, and
create a plan of action. The second handbook, “Cemetery
Preservation Training, Part I: Basic Workshop,” focuses
on assessment, planning, probing, cleaning, and simple resetting.
This is the handbook we use for the hands-on Basic Workshop.
Class participants learn the proper techniques to probe for
and clean buried markers, how to document the markers, and how
to reset simple tablet markers. It’s a rewarding process!
The advanced cemetery preservation workshop has two components.
First, we teach participants how to safely lift markers and
how to reset multi-base monuments. During the second part of
the advanced class participants learn about the use of mortars.
We focus on why using mortars is successful, what mortars are
appropriate for historic grave markers, and how to properly
repair fragmented markers. The handbooks for the advanced class,
“Cemetery Preservation Training, Part II: Advanced Workshop
Lifting and Resetting” and “Cemetery Preservation
Training, Part II: Advanced Workshop Working with Mortars,”
are being revised and will be available at a later date. Completion
of the Basic Workshop is a pre-requisite for the Advanced Workshop.
There are many manuals available to the public that explain
the different techniques used in cemetery preservation. The
Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Illinois Department
of Natural Resources follow a conservative approach to cemetery
preservation and present methods and products that are approved
by the National Park Service. We want to help you to preserve
cemeteries for future generations. It’s not just our history,
it’s everyone’s history.
Links to additional cemetery preservation resources include:
The Association for Gravestone Studies, www.gravestonestudies.org
The Chicora Foundation, www.chicora.org
The National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation
Technology and Training, www.ncptt.nps.gov.