Goats in the cemetery and other ways to find family grave sites in pastures
April 7, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 6, 2010 at 11:07 p.m.
By Martha Jones Recently after speaking to the Matagorda County Genealogical Society, the question was asked about relatives buried in the middle of a farm field on private property.
The person wanted to visit the burial plot and wanted to know what she should do.
My response was to be sure she had the permission of the landowner or else she would be trespassing.
After more research, I found that Section 711.041 of the Texas Health and Safety Code provides a person the rights of visitation during reasonable hours and for purposes associated with cemetery visits; however, the owner of the land surrounding the cemetery may designate the routes for reasonable access. If the visitor cannot find the landowner, or if the owner is an absentee landowner, then a check must be made with the county tax appraisal office for the name and address of the owner.
In addition, I suggest checking with the county historical commission where the cemetery is located. They may be able to provide information about the history of the cemetery.
Another source is the local monument company that has lists of cemeteries throughout surrounding counties and often has burial site records for many cemeteries. Check the county clerk's records to see if a deed exists for the cemetery or if it was set aside in the past for use as a cemetery.
Sometimes mention is made that land is set aside for a "graveyard" and even provides for access to the cemetery. Old deeds might mention the cemetery, however "graveyard" or "cemetery" often disappear from newer deeds.
Often when cemeteries are in the middle of a field or on private property they are covered with underbrush and brambles. A unique solution to this problem is credited to an enterprising staff member of the Henderson County North Carolina Cemetery Committee, Jennie Jones Giles, who heard someone mention that "goats will eat anything," borrowed six: a brown and white Nubian goat, two sets of Pygmy goats and a dwarf Nigerian goat to go on location at the Ballard Cemetery near North Mills River to clear the vegetation. The free labor happily chomped their way through the thicket of briars and weeds. Giles made weekly visits to the site to supplement their feed and to set out fresh water.
After the underbrush was cleared, 26 graves were located, some of them sunken in four rows. Smooth field stones no larger than a loaf of bread marked the graves in Ballard Family Cemetery. With all the vegetation it was difficult to see what might resemble a row of graves.
North Carolina also has a statue similar to the one in Texas regarding access to gravesites. According to the Mills River Times News, "Under a statute governing cemeteries, with a court order granting permission to enter, county staff or families of the deceased have legal access rights."
The next time you want to access a cemetery on private property, gain permission of the landowner and if it is overgrown with brush and brambles, take along some goats.
E-mail genealogy queries to Martha Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org. VCGS members will research queries requiring extensive study.