Legal Precedent

The Code of Virginia lists several laws that pertain to cemeteries, including protection, access, and, when necessary, the process for removing graves. In short, destroying any gravemarker or causing damage to a cemetery is a crime (see section 18.2-126 below). If a cemetery is classified as "abandoned" or "neglected" a county, city, or town can claim ownership of the cemetery and use the land for other purposes (removing the bodies to another location). This is one of the many reasons why documenting and protecting historic black cemeteries is so important. There have been several successful efforts in Albemarle County to exhume bodies and remove them from abandoned cemeteries. This makes it very difficult for relatives to locate their ancestors. The good news is that families have the right to gain access to old family graveyards, even if they are located on land no longer owned by the family, providing they give adequate notice to the landowner (see section 57-27.1 below).

Below are links to laws taken from the Code of Virginia. They are listed in no particular order and the links below will take you to a new site. Please use the "back" button on your browser to return to this site. A reminder, these are the laws for the state of Virginia, not federal laws, and thus are only applicable within the state.

Laws that Pertain to Cemeteries in the Code of Virginia
18.2-125 Trespass at night upon any cemetery
18.2-126. Violation of sepulture; defilement of a dead human body; penalties.
18.2-127. Injuries to churches, church property, cemeteries, burial grounds, etc.; penalty.
10.1-2305. Permit required for the archaeological excavation of human remains.
33.1-241. Roads not to be established through cemetery without owners' consent.
57-22. Conveyance of land to trustees or local governing body for cemetery use.
57-27.1. Access to cemeteries located on private property
57-36. Abandoned graveyards may be condemned; removal of bodies.
57-39.1. Improvement of abandoned and neglected graveyards.
57-39.1:1. Recovery of abandoned interment rights