859FW: USGenWeb Newsletter, June 2007, Vol. 4, No. 5
- Jul 1, 20072nd attempt. The message is too large so it will have to be broken into smaller pieces. . .
As a list admin and a county coordinator, I receive a monthly newsletter. I snipped the business and a few other things out. What’s left are a couple of articles packed with info and links. There are quite a few links. Hope you find a clue. Let us know if you did and where.
The USGenWeb Project
N E W S
Volume 4, Number 5
by Linda K Lewis, Chronicles Editor
The World of the Cemetery Sexton
Sexton n. Church custodian charged with keeping the church and parish buildings prepared for meetings, caring for church equipment, and performing related minor duties such as ringing the bell and digging graves.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica
Long before the garden-style cemeteries of the 1800s, burial grounds were located on church grounds, and it was the job of the church sexton, or caretaker, to manage the burials in the cemetery. While today most cemeteries are privately owned, either by a corporation or a cemetery association, and graves are no longer dug by hand, the cemetery sexton still plays a vital role in the health of a cemetery.
At a high level, the role of a cemetery sexton is to take charge of, care for, and supervise the cemetery under the direction of the Cemetery Board or other governing party. But what exactly does that entail?
Opening and Closing Graves
One of the main functions of a cemetery sexton is to open and close graves for interments. In order to do that, the sexton must know where the plots are physically located in the cemetery, the dimensions of the plots, and which graves are filled.
It is the sexton’s responsibility to open graves without disturbing prior interments. It would not be a happy event for the backhoe to hit another casket. In some cases this means that the sexton must probe the ground to make certain the neighboring graves will not be disturbed.
Another major function of a cemetery sexton is to be able to show prospective buyers lots that are available for sale. That means that the sexton must not only keep up with what plots are filled, but also what lots are sold. The sale of a cemetery plot is much like the sale of any real estate and usually includes a deed.
Similarly, once a headstone is shipped to the cemetery, it is the cemetery sexton’s responsibility to know where the monument is to be installed and direct the installation. In many cemeteries, it is also the sexton’s responsibility to notify the installers when the stone arrives. In most cases this also includes arranging for free installation of military markers that are shipped to the cemetery for installation.
The cemetery sexton is also responsible for the grounds, turf, and landscaping maintenance. This includes mowing, filling holes and sinking graves, the upkeep of trees and plantings, the cemetery fence (if there is one), signage, and any memorial areas in the cemetery.
Rules and Regs
One of the least favorite jobs of a sexton is enforcing the cemetery rules and regulations. This includes when people can visit, appropriate conduct in the cemetery, grave decorations, and litter. Most modern cemeteries have rules about what can be installed at a grave, and what can be placed at a grave. Some cemeteries do not allow plantings at graves, holiday decorations, lighting, or other memorabilia, while other will allow some or all of these things. Many cemeteries have rules about live and even artificial flowers and post signage stating their policy. This helps to keep the cemetery clean and fresh of pots of dead flowers throughout the harsh winter.
It’s all about the Map
Modern cemeteries are typically platted out and every square inch is accounted for. The cemetery may be comprised of different lot layouts in different sections of the cemetery. There may be differing sizes of graves and usually some smaller crematory plots. A map is created and each grave is identified by some naming or numbering scheme, usually identifying sections, blocks, lots, and plots, and it is the job of the sexton to maintain this map. This map is essential in the ability to do their job.
Not a Mason
It may seem that the sexton has an obligation with regard to the maintenance of markers and monuments; however this is not the case. The monuments are owned by the purchaser and installed on private property (the purchased lot) and it is really the responsibility of the family to perform any cleaning or repair. However, some cemeteries do step up and try to repair and curate old broken stones which have long been forgotten. This is purely a voluntary action on their part, and if they do it, it’s because they love their cemetery.
Not a Genealogist
While many people contact cemetery sextons to find out genealogical information on past interments, answering these types of questions, and doing genealogy is NOT their responsibility, and if they choose to provide this information, it is purely of their own free will.
Your Faithful Caretaker
Always remember: it is not the job of a sexton to know what is inscribed on the stone, or the relationship of any individual to any other individual, or to fix a broken stone; it is the sexton’s job to keep up the cemetery and to know which lots are filled, what lots are sold, and what lots are available. They have to deal with the finality of death, eternal resting places of loved ones of the living, and be sensitive to the emotional state of the public, sometimes during their time of great loss.
It’s not just a job.
The views expressed in this newsletter are those of the contributors and newsletter staff, and are not necessarily those of the USGenWeb Project.
Managing Editor: Denise Wells
Records Editor: Anne J Lex
Project Spotlights Editor: Darlene Anderson
Contributing Editor: Christine Sweet-Hart, CG
Graveside Chronicles Editor: Linda K Lewis
(c) 2007. Permission to reprint articles from the USGenWeb Newsletter is granted unless specifically stated otherwise and provided that a copy of the citing newsletter or publication is forwarded to the Managing Editor at EditorUSGenWebNL@..., the name of the author of such article is stated, followed by the statement: Previously published in the USGenWeb Newsletter, June 2007, Volume 4, Number 5.
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