There are a many types of cemeteries with varying levels of services and options relating to burials. Depending on a number of factors finding an appropriate cemetery for burial or cremation may prove difficult. The factors for consideration when selecting a cemetery include, but are not limited to, types of services, geographic location, religious affiliation, type of memorial, and military services. As a result of the variety of burial practice options a unique set of cemetery classifications and categorizations exists to help individuals with choosing the proper final resting place. Accordingly, cemeteries are generally be categorized based on the type of burial options offered, type of memorialization allowed, services provided, religious affiliation, and ownership structure.

Purpose and Characteristics of Cemetery Types

Each type of cemetery is designed and organized to reflect the religion, culture, traditions, and habits of the community it serves. The changing differences in both burial traditions and legal regulations has led to the creation of many different types of cemeteries.

The most common types of cemeteries include monumental cemeteries, memorial park, garden cemeteries, religious cemeteries, municipal cemeteries, VA cemeteries, full-service cemetery, combination cemeteries, and natural burial grounds or green burial grounds.

Cemetery Types

  • A Monumental Cemetery, or a monument cemetery, is the traditional style of a cemetery that features upright headstones or other upright monumental memorials. These monument and headstones are typically granite, marble or a combination of stone and bronze. Many modern monumental cemeteries have designated certain sections for flat-lawn level memorials to allow for a lower-cost burial option.

  • The Memorial Park type of cemetery features lawn-level memorials in order to make the cemetery look and feel like a garden or a park.. The use of lawn-level granite or bronze memorials allows for easier care, more natural beauty, and typically has lower costs. The memorial park concept was created in the 19th century and became popular in the 20th century.

  • The Garden Cemetery combines upright monuments with an attempt to incorporate a natural or garden like look and feel. Frequently, a garden cemetery will also be a botanic garden or arboretum. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts is a prime example of a garden cemetery and arboretum.

  • Religious Cemeteries are owned and operated by a religious group or order in order to serve a specific religious community. Religious Cemeteries represent a large percentage of the absolute total number of cemeteries across the US, many of which are church graveyards. Religious cemeteries may have religious restrictions dictating the religious beliefs of individuals buried within the cemetery. Religious cemeteries vary in their level of required observance and practice. Some are very restrictive, allowing only known orthodox practitioners, whereas others operate according to general loose guidelines and principles of belief. The Catholic Church operate diocesan catholic cemeteries regionally. There are many Jewish Cemeteries owned by specific congregations in the northeast, southeast, Midwest and west coast.

  • Municipal Cemeteries are owned by the local city or county. The upkeep and maintenance of many municipal cemeteries fall under the supervision of the public works department. Whereas 'cemetery services' which include the opening of graves, setting of the vaults and performance for burial services are often outsourced to the value company, funeral home or professional cemetery service organization. Municipal, or public, cemeteries may be self-funding or subsidized by the local government. Public cemeteries tend to have lower plot and service costs than do private cemeteries but may also offer fewer options and services.

  • Natural Burial Grounds emphasize minimal environmental impact funeral and burial practices. The specific rites and rituals allowed will vary based on the climate and topography of the area.

  • Green Burial Grounds are a specifically certified and monitored type of natural burial grounds. There are multiple levels of green burial based on the specific practices of the given cemetery.

  • VA Cemeteries are owned, operated, and controls by the Veterans Affair Administration on both the state and national levels. Burial in a VA Cemetery is limited to those individuals who qualify for veteran burial benefits. Learn more about VA cemeteries.

  • A Graveyard is a small burial ground historically attached to or associated with, church property. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, a graveyard is a specific type of cemetery.

  • Family Burial Grounds are privately held parcels of land specifically designated for the burial of members of the same family. Family cemeteries were commonly used in rural America throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Located on family farms, family cemeteries are dedicated to a single family and are largely unregulated. Practical problems may arise with family cemeteries when family land is sold and access to the burial sites is lost. While some states have laws guaranteeing access to family graves, after a land is sold, many states do not.

Differences between Publicly and Privately Owned Cemeteries

The cost of cemetery goods and services depends on the type of cemetery, type of burial, location of plot, memorialization, and perpetual care funding. Additionally, the cost of cemetery services will depend on the source of ongoing care and maintenance. Municipal, or public, cemeteries may be self-funding or subsidized by the local government. Public cemeteries tend to have lower plot and service costs than private cemeteries. In general, private cemeteries may have higher costs than public cemeteries. Private cemeteries are required to be financially self-sustaining for both its daily cemetery operations and for its ongoing care and maintenance.

History of Cemeteries

Cemeteries have been an important part of culture and society since the beginning of human history. Cemeteries have evolved to meet the changing needs of the communities they serve with respect to the care provided to those individuals buried within the cemetery grounds, and the comfort offered to visitors and mourners.

Ancillary Information about Cemeteries

A cemetery can be owned by a religious order, municipality, fraternal organization, association, individual or corporation. The ownership structure of a cemetery determines the mix of available burial options, memorials and legacy services offered through its policies, practices, and Rules and Regulations.

The cemetery owner is the steward of the individual lot owners burial rights and the guardian of those at rest within the cemetery. They directly impact the quality of care by determining the cemetery staff's levels of responsiveness and service orientation and is ultimately responsible for the cemetery care and upkeep.