Memorials For Unmarked Graves

In the last couple of years, we have received a lot of enquiries regarding memorials for unmarked graves. This, we understand, is down to the increased amount of family research undertaken during the Covid lockdown. There are rules and regulations however regarding when memorials can be placed at previously unmarked graves.

An unmarked private grave in Allerton Cemetery

Firstly, it is important to clear up some of the confusion that can occur when it comes to unmarked and public graves. Public graves are not necessarily unmarked, just as private ones are not always marked. They can both be one or the other.

In local authority cemeteries you will often see large grassed areas in between sections. These often contain hundreds of public burials, with as many as twelve in a plot. Public graves are not routinely marked by local authorities, but small memorials are allowed there, hence you will usually see small flat grave markers within these areas.

Just because a grave is privately owned does not mean it is a marked one. Throughout cemeteries you will see row of headstones with gaps in them. These are where there is a private plot that has not been marked. There are numerous reasons why this is the case. It could be that the memorial has become unsafe and removed, or that the family members could not afford to place one there or simply chose not to do so.

Public graves are often referred to as paupers’ graves and it is right that anybody who may have died in destitution was buried there. However, there were often situations whereby the deceased may have had the means to buy a private grave, but desired against this preferring their relatives to spend the money elsewhere. It is not uncommon for family researchers to be shocked when they find an ancestor has not been buried in a private plot.

It is possible to get public graves marked, but there are some restrictions. They must be flat and no more than eighteen by eighteen inches, with a base no more than three inches in height. You do not need to be worried about seeking permission from the relatives of others buried in the same plot to place a marker there. With the public graves in Liverpool’s cemeteries containing as many as fifteen burials, this would be a near impossible task if it were necessary. However, the council does place a limit of four memorials on each public grave and it is on a first come first served basis. It is fair to say though that it is extremely rare to see even two memorials on one grave plot.

When it comes to marking private graves where there is no memorial, there is a lot more flexibility in terms of size and type. After that, it is not so simple. Headstones can only be erected with the permission of the grave owner. If the grave owner cannot be traced or is deceased, you would need to demonstrate you have right of burial there. Your local cemetery office should be able to advise on whether you have any realistic prospect of claiming grave ownership.

Hopefully this blog has answered some of the questions regarding placing of memorials on graves of family members that are unmarked. Sarsfield Memorials are of course happy to discuss any work you may be considering having done whether it be a memorial plaque on a public plot or putting a headstone on a private grave. Please be reminded we will only carry out work on plots with permission of the legally registered grave owner.