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Burial on the Farm

Driving down country roads, I’ve often noticed farm fields with small cemeteries in them. It never occurred to me the people buried there were not relatives of the landowners until one fall afternoon a few years ago.

I was working outside when a car pulled into the farm path across the road. A couple got out and, seeing me, crossed the street. They wanted to know if we owned that land. Their relatives were buried in on the farm, and they wanted permission to visit the family plot.

Years ago, farms were located considerable distances from town, so it was hard to reach church cemeteries where most members of the community were buried. Buying a plot in that cemetary was expensive, more money than most farmers had. Instead, family members were buried on the farm. Many landowners prefered having thier final resting spot on land connected to their family.

Children moved away from the farm. Farmland was sold. The small family plot became overgrown when there wasn’t any family around to tend it.  

I wasn’t able to tell the couple who owned the farm across the street, but I could direct them to the farmer tending the land.

In North Carolina, according to the general statute, descendants of people buried in a cemetery on private property must have the landowner's permission to visit the plot. If they can’t get it, there is an option to file a petition with the court to gain access.

I wondered what obligation the landowner had when he purchased land with a cemetery on it. State law varies, but in Virginia where I’m from, the landowner is not required to do any upkeep. There are laws protecting a gravesite from damage from development, vandalism, and farming activity.

I’ve often wondered if the couple was able to contact the landowner. I hope so, and I hope they were given permission to tend the graves of their relatives.

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