Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

How to Submit a Request to Disturb a Burial Site

Working Within the Boundaries of Cemeteries and Mound Groups

How to Submit a Request to Disturb a Burial Site | Wisconsin Historical Society

No human burial site, including cemeteries and Native American mound groups, may be disturbed without authorization from the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Read more to find out how to request that authorization.

First, Know If the Action You Plan to Take Is a Disturbance

Before filling out any forms, make sure the action you plan to take is considered a disturbance.

Examples of a disturbance include, but are not limited to, house or road construction, utility installation, installation of fence posts, gravel or sand mining, and landscaping. It is illegal to remove, move, or damage burial markers, including Native American mounds. Wisconsin's burial sites law (Wis. Stats. 157.70) establishes the proper procedures for requesting approval to disturb a burial site.

Normal cemetery business conducted by cemetery employees or caretakers, such as the excavation of new graves or cemetery maintenance, does not require authorization.

Second, Know If You Are Planning to Disturb an Uncataloged or Cataloged Site

An uncataloged burial site is a human burial site that has been destroyed, cannot be located, or has not yet been listed in Wisconsin's Burial Sites Catalog. If it is determined that an uncataloged human burial site is likely to still contain human remains and if the site can be re-located, it can be added to the catalog.

A cataloged burial site is a human burial site believed to still contain human remains, is in a known location, and is listed in the Wisconsin Burial Sites Catalog.

To Disturb an Uncataloged Site

Fill out and mail the Request to Disturb a Human Burial Site form. Please mail the request to the address listed on the form. We cannot accept digital submissions at this time. Allow 30 days for your permit request to be approved.

You may not proceed with your project until you receive authorization from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

If you are unsure if a burial site is uncataloged or cataloged, email Amy Rosebrough or call her at 608-264-6494.

To Disturb a Cataloged Site

A cataloged site has more protection under Wisconsin state law. For example, penalties for disturbing a cataloged burial site without authorization from the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society are more severe. Also, if someone requests to disturb a cataloged burial site, members of the Registry of Interested Persons (RIP) must be given 30 days to review the request.

Step 1: Fill Out and Mail in a Request to Disturb a Human Burial Site Form

Note: the same Request to Disturb a Human Burial Site form is used for both cataloged and uncataloged burial sites. The only difference is indicating the Cataloging Status. All other information, such as describing the nature of planned ground disturbing activities and providing supporting documentation is required for either situation. 

Step 2: Notify the Registry of Interested Persons

When your request is received by the Wisconsin Historical Society you will be asked to notify appropriate members of the Registry of Interested Persons. Anyone on the Registry who has registered an interest in the burial site you may be disturbing is entitled to be notified.

  • Society staff will provide you with a notification packet to send to Registry members.
  • The packet will include letters prepared for the appropriate Registry members and pre-printed certified return receipts. The Society will pay for any postage.
  • Because of a restriction in state law, you will have to physically mail the pre-prepared letters to the Registry members.
  • Certified mail receipts will be returned automatically to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
  • The Registry's 30-day comment period will be initiated when the first return receipt is received by Society staff.
  • Registry comments will be returned to the Wisconsin Historical Society for consideration.
Step 3: Burial Evaluation Committee Reviews Your Request

When the Registry's 30-day comment period has passed, your request to disturb a cataloged burial site will be reviewed by the Burial Evaluation Committee (BEC) of the Wisconsin Historical Society. The BEC will consider comments from the Registry when making their recommendation to the director.

  • The director of the Wisconsin Historical Society will send you a written letter approving or denying your request.
  • If your request to disturb a catalogued burial site is denied by the director, you will be given an opportunity to appeal the decision.

In total, your request will take between 60 to 90 days to process, including the mandatory 30-day comment period for Registry members.

Asking for an Administrative Law Judge to Review Your Request

If you are uncomfortable with having Wisconsin Historical Society staff review your request to disturb a cataloged burial site, you have the right to ask an administrative law judge to consider your request instead.

To have your request considered by an administrative law judge, send a written request for a hearing to the director of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

The director will pass on any request for a hearing to the Division of Hearings and Appeals. From this point, the Division of Hearings and Appeals will take charge of the decision process.

Be aware that the director or any member of the Registry of Interested Persons also may ask to have your request transferred to an administrative law judge.

If your request to disturb a cataloged burial site is denied by the administrative law judge, you will be given an opportunity to appeal the decision.

Learn More

See more articles about Human Burials, Mounds and Cemeteries

Have Questions?

Contact Kimberly Cook at 1-800-342-7834 or by email below: