Grave Interment Process

Hanover County Review Process for Identifying Cemeteries and Graves on County Property

Hanover County recognizes its long history and the fact that there are many cemeteries and burial sites throughout its 474 square miles. A number of these cemeteries and graves are not marked or identified in any way, either by a grave marker, fencing delineating the cemetery, or a notation in property records.

If a Hanover County project potentially impacts unidentified gravesites, the County utilizes the following procedure in order to be as sensitive as possible to any living descendants of those who may be buried on a potential project site.

The following process is specific to Hanover County projects, however we encourage any private entity making construction investments in the County to follow a similar process. Anyone wishing to remove and reinter abandoned or unidentified cemeteries or graves must follow the procedures set forth in Title 57, Chapter 3, Article 4 of the Code of Virginia.

Hanover County’s Process:

  1. Landowner Consultation - When purchasing property, the County will obtain any information available from the landowner about cemeteries or graves possibly located on the property.
  2. Phase I Cultural Resources Survey - If appropriate, a Phase I Cultural Resources Survey of the project area will be performed by the County’s archaeological consultant in order to identify architectural and archeological resources. If a cemetery or graves are located during this survey, a cemetery delineation will be conducted by the archaeological consultant.
  3. Project Plans - If the cemetery can remain in place without conflicting with the project plans, the cemetery will remain in place. Only if it is determined that the location of the cemetery cannot be accommodated within the project will the County seek to remove and relocate the cemetery. If it is determined that relocation of the cemetery is not necessary, the County will provide for ingress and egress to the cemetery and will discuss maintenance of the cemetery with any living descendants identified during the process.
  4. Historic Black Cemetery Review/Other Historic Cemetery Review - The County will review any potentially impacted cemetery or grave locations and compare them to the list of Historic Black Cemeteries provided by the Hanover County NAACP. If any graves are found in locations inconsistent with the Historic Black Cemeteries list, the County will follow up with the NAACP. The County will determine if any of the cemeteries identified in the book Family Cemeteries of Hanover County, Virginia (Hanover County Historical Society, November 2021) are located on the project property in order to ensure that any cemetery not previously identified during the review process but included in the book is identified, located, and considered during the project planning.
  5. Virginia Code Procedure to Seek Court Permission for Removal and Relocation of Abandoned or Unidentified Cemeteries - The County will follow the procedures set forth in Virginia Code Section 57-36, Section 57-38.1, or Section 57-39, as appropriate.
    1. Virginia Code Section 57-38.1
      1. Hanover County will file a bill in equity requesting the Hanover County Circuit Court authorize the County to remove and relocate the cemetery and hold a hearing during which any “interested parties” (living descendants of the persons buried in the graveyard) may appear and express their views.
      2. All interested parties, known or unknown, are made defendants in the case and are provided notice of the case and the hearing date. Known parties are provided notice by service of process of the bill in equity.
      3. The County must undertake active, good faith efforts to locate interested parties including, at a minimum:
        1. Publication of at least one notice in a local newspaper of general circulation (the County publishes the required notice in the Mechanicsville-Ashland Local for 2 weeks);
        2. Notice posted at the site of the graveyard;
        3. Notice to and consultation with any historic preservation or other such commission and area historical and genealogical societies;
        4. Notice posted on the internet, including appropriate websites and through the use of social media; and
        5. Consultation with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
      4. A hearing is held in the Hanover County Circuit Court during which all interested parties are allowed to appear and express their views on the request for removal and reinterment of the graves and their preferences as to cemetery where the graves should be relocated. The Hanover County Circuit Court grants or denies the County’s request. If the Circuit Court grants the County’s request, it approves either a funeral home or archeologist, or both, as the County’s contractor to perform the removal and reinterment and authorizes reinterment in a specific cemetery. (If removal is to be done by an archeologist, a permit from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is required.) The cemetery where the graves will be relocated may be selected by the County if no interested parties appear to express their views, or a specific cemetery may be requested by interested parties.
    2. Virginia Code Section 57-36 (This procedure is applicable when a graveyard has been abandoned, is unused and neglected, or is a previously unidentified graveyard and the graveyard is necessary for public purposes.)
      1. The County acquires title to the graveyard by condemnation proceedings following eminent domain statutes.
      2. The Court directs the remains be removed to a repository used and maintained as a cemetery.
      3. If the County initiates plans to use the land for purposes other than to maintain a graveyard, the County shall, prior to completion of such plans, engage in active public notice and participation regarding efforts to avoid adverse impacts to the graveyard or to remove the remains to an alternative depository, including, at a minimum:
        1. Publication of at least one notice in a local newspaper of general circulation;
        2. Notice posted at the site of the graveyard;
        3. Notice to and consultation with any historic preservation or other such commission and area historical and genealogical societies;
        4. Notice posted on the internet, including appropriate websites and through the use of social media; and
        5. Consultation with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
      4. The County shall make a good faith effort to identify and contact living descendants of the persons buried in the graveyard, if known.
      5. Having given all public comment due consideration, the County is encouraged first to adjust plans to maintain the graveyard as part of the larger land use plan, or if that is not feasible, to request permission to proceed with removal through the Court (Virginia Code Section 57-38.1) or through the Virginia Department of Historic Resources should archaeological removal be appropriate.
      6. If the County acquires land on which a previously unidentified or abandoned cemetery or gravesite of any Virginian held as a slave at the time of his death is located, the County must notify the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which shall record the location and maintain a listing of the locations of all such cemeteries or gravesites as a public record.
    3. Virginia Code Section 57-39 (This procedure is applicable when the owners of a graveyard, by reason of their infancy or disability or by reason of their being numerous or partly unknown, or of the residence of any of them being unknown, cannot or cannot conveniently unite in making disposition of the graveyard. Such a case is normally brought by one of the owners but may be brought by the County.)
      1. If the case is brought by the County, the County files a bill in equity in Circuit Court for the purpose of having the remains removed to some more suitable repository and the land vacated sold.
      2. All owners of the graveyard or any person having a right in the graveyard, if known, and if not known, such unknown parties shall be made defendants.
      3. In determining the question of removal or sale, the Court must consider the wishes of concerned parties if brought to its knowledge.