Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Neglected and Abandoned Cemeteries

What to do if You Think a Cemetery is Not Being Properly Maintained

Caring for Neglected or Abandoned Cemeteries | Wisconsin Historical Society

Are you are worried that a cemetery is not being properly cared for? If so, here are a few things you should know.

Cleaning Up Neglected Cemeteries

Wisconsin state law does not regulate how cemeteries are maintained, only whether they are protected from physical disturbance. As a result, the Wisconsin Historical Society has no authority to require landowners to clean up or care for neglected cemeteries.

If you think that a cemetery on private land is being neglected, contact the landowner with your concerns. If the cemetery is on village, town, county, or city land, contact its legal department. You can find out who owns a cemetery by contacting your local tax assessor or register of deeds.

If you would like to volunteer to clean up a neglected cemetery, first get permission from the landowner and make sure the landowner agrees to any changes you wish to make. Do not remove tombstones or dig into the ground.

Abandoned Cemeteries

Some cemeteries don't have owners. Over time, some cemetery associations and churches fade away, leaving abandoned cemeteries behind. Wisconsin state law Wis. Stats. 157.115(1) (PDF, 164 KB) requires local units of government to take control of abandoned cemeteries.

If a civil town fails to take control of and care for an abandoned cemetery in its jurisdiction, six or more residents of that town may petition their local circuit court to order their town board to assume control. The town must then care for the cemetery like any other public cemetery.

Residents of both civil towns and municipalities have the right to ask that abandoned cemeteries be moved. Six or more residents of the civil town or municipality where an abandoned cemetery is located must petition their circuit court to order that the cemetery be moved. If the court agrees, the graves in the abandoned cemetery will be exhumed and moved to an active cemetery where they will be cared for. If the circuit court denies the petition, the town board or municipality with jurisdiction over the cemetery must care for it like any other public cemetery.

Learn More

Have Questions?

For questions about and abandoned cemeteries contact Amy Rosebrough by phone at 608-264-6494 or by email below: