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TNMCorps Structure: Cemetery

Cemetery: A place or area set apart for burying the dead or storing ashes.


The Guidelines define Cemetery as follows:

A place or area set apart for burying the dead or storing ashes.

  • INDICATORS: Human interments.

INCLUDES: Burial grounds, graves, graveyards, memorial gardens, mausoleums, columbariums, and crypts.

DOES NOT INCLUDE: Graves inundated by lakes or reservoirshistoric cemeteries, pet cemeteries, unnamed cemeteries and/or graves, funeral homes.


What is a Cemetery? 

Cemeteries are defined as places where the dead are buried, including graveyards, burial sites, and columbariums. Pet cemeteries are not included.

Single graves within burial sites are generally not included, unless they are the graves of famous historical figures. An example of a single grave for a famous historical figure is the burial marker for Thomas Jefferson (i.e., the Jefferson Tomb) outside of his former Monticello residence.


Where does our Cemetery database originate?

There are two principal sources of cemetery data in the TNMCorps Structures database: US Geological Survey (USGS) Topographic maps and the USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS).

US Geological Survey topographic maps were produced from about 1879 to 1992 using a combination of aerial photographs and on-the-ground surveys and inventories. In addition to large more-modern cemeteries, many small cemeteries of historical significance were mapped, and these are included in our database.


    • Topographic Maps

      Topographic maps became a signature product of the USGS because the public found them - then and now - to be a critical and versatile tool for viewing the nation's vast landscape.


      Topographic Maps

      Topographic maps became a signature product of the USGS because the public found them - then and now - to be a critical and versatile tool for viewing the nation's vast landscape.

      Learn More

The GNIS has cemetery information built over time from a variety of sources. One example of this is the USGenWeb Project. This volunteer project, started in 1996, serves as a repository of internet resources for genealogical research in every county and state in the country.

Because many historical cemeteries have been carefully documented and included in the database, please do not remove cemeteries from the database simply because they are not visible in aerial imagery. Only remove cemeteries if the imagery shows without a doubt that the landscape has been altered (for example, a shopping center now exists where the cemetery used to be), or if you have local or on-the-ground knowledge that the cemetery has been moved or destroyed, or that the graves have been disinterred.


What are authoritative sources of information about cemetery locations?

There is no single complete authoritative source of information about cemeteries, but there are many internet resources that together can provide a fairly complete list of cemeteries:

  • The Find A Grave website has quite a comprehensive list; you can search for cemeteries by name or county. The website provides latitude and longitude for most cemeteries.
  • The BillionGraves website has coordinates for cemeteries in its database, and shows the location of the cemetery on aerial imagery. You can search their database by county.
  • The USGenWeb Archives provides lists of cemeteries by state and county. It also provides cemetery lists as part of its Tombstone Transcription Project.
  • The topoView application contains an archive of older USGS topographic maps which can be downloaded and viewed on a computer. These older maps show the locations of many (not all) cemeteries. It is particularly useful for locating older cemeteries in rural areas. Note that if a cemetery is not shown on an older map, this does not mean that the cemetery does not exist; it just may not have been validated by field crews at the time. It is also important to note that not all cemeteries on the older topographic maps were named. Therefore, if a cemetery is shown on a map from the topoView archive but is not named, try using one of the other sources listed here to identify the cemetery’s proper name.  
  • The Churches and Cemeteries website lists cemeteries by state and county.
  • Local historical or genealogical societies may have lists of cemeteries as well.


Where do I place a cemetery structure point?

The general rule is to place the cemetery structure point at the center of the burial grounds. A single point should be placed even if a cemetery has a combination of facilities (e.g., graves, mausoleums, columbariums).

Some columbarium-only facilities are located in church buildings, although their presence may be difficult to ascertain or validate; they should be represented by a point at the center of the church structure.

For more information on how to identify a cemetery, check out the newsletter article titled Aerial Photo Interpretation Part 1: Cemeteries


What Address should be given for rural cemeteries?

Many cemeteries do not have addresses, therefore, addresses are not required for cemetery points. In cases where no numbered street address seems to be assigned:

  1. If there is a road intersection nearby, add the road names, for example, "County Road 10 and US Highway 20".
  2. If there is only a single road nearby, use only the name of the nearest road, for example, "County Road 10".
  3. If no road is nearby, leave the Address blank, and fill in only the nearest city (and zipcode, if you know it). The State is the only required field when address information is not available.

Check out this Q&A for more on cemetery addresses.


Why do we collect information about cemeteries?

The original reason we started collecting information about cemeteries is that they were prominent feature types shown on USGS topographic maps. But another reason is that there are many people that are interested in history and genealogy and find this information useful. One of our volunteers says:

" a lifelong genealogist, I have been frustrated with the gap between local information about cemeteries and what is easily available in a consistent, reliable, national format. I have benefited from hundreds of thousands of hours of work by others and this is the way I am giving back."