In light of the recent threats to small historic burying grounds in Henrico County (see Henrico County forgotten graves, redux and Unknown African American burials behind Freeman High School), I reached out to a local real estate professional, Cindy Georgallis, who has had success in these situations. She pointed me to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ Frequently Asked Questions page regarding cemetery preservation. It is quite helpful, though it contains this discouraging bit of information:
“Someone else now owns the land where my ancestors are buried. What are my rights regarding that cemetery?
Unless the deed of sale for the property specifies certain conditions of the sale, then most rights go to the new property owner. Virginia law does require that landowners allow access to cemeteries on private property for the purpose of visitation by family members/descendants or plot owners, and for genealogical research….. Virginia law requires any property owner intending to obtain a court order to remove and relocate human burials from any abandoned cemetery on his/her property to make a reasonable and good-faith effort to notify the family and/or descendants of the buried individuals (§57-38.1 and §57-39).”
As we’ve seen, this “reasonable and good-faith effort” is hard to enforce.