Glossary of Cemetery Terms

  • In this section, find a glossary containing definitions of common terms relating to Cemetery and Burial practices.

    A B C D E F G H I J K L M
    N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


  • At-need

    Any final arrangements decisions or plans made after the time of a death. TOP


  • Bevel marker, aka beveled edge marker or memorial

    A rectangular gravemarker, which is set low to the ground, and that has straight sides angled from the top surface raked at a low angle. The term bevel refers specifically to the fact that the edging is not perpendicular to the top surface of the memorial. TOP
  • Burial

    The act of burying a body. A burial is also called an interment. TOP
  • Burial site

    The specific place and location for the burial of human remains. In modern cemeteries, the burial site will be identified either by Section, Grave, and Estate numbers of by specific measurements within a designated block area. TOP
  • Burial Urn

    A container to contain cremated remains which is suitable for cemetery burial. TOP


  • Casket

    A rectangular container used for holding a body at the time of burial typically constructed of wood, metal, or bamboo. TOP
  • Cemetery

    A specially designated place where human remains are at rest by way of burial, entombment, interment, inurnment, or scattering. TOP
  • Cenotaph

    A memorial or headstone placed on a grave where the physical body is not present. Historically, cenotaphs have been used to memorialize or to commemorate the deaths of those lost in war, or are at rest in another part of the world. TOP
  • Centerpiece

    A sculpture or other work of art monument, typically featured in the center of the cemetery. Centerpieces typically have historical or religious significance and are quite prominent in many religious cemeteries. TOP
  • Coffin

    A tapered container used for holding a body at the time of burial typically constructed of wood. TOP
  • Columbarium

    A building that is designed for the housing of cremated remains. A columbarium can be inside or outside and it can be freestanding or as part of a larger structure. Many cemeteries have columbaria housed within larger mausoleum buildings. TOP
  • Committal Service

    The burial service to place casketed remains into a grave. TOP
  • Cremation

    A form of final disposition that involves the burning, vaporization or oxidation of human remains followed by the pulverization of dry bone material. TOP
  • Crematorium

    The furnace used for the incineration of human remains in the process of performing a cremation. TOP
  • Crypt

    A sealed enclosure for the entombment placement of a casket found typically within a mausoleum, sarcophagus, or lawn-crypt. TOP


  • Direct Burial

    A burial wherein the body is interred in a grave shortly after death without any preceding funeral or memorial services. TOP
  • Direct Cremation

    A cremation that occurs shortly after death without any preceding funeral or memorial services. TOP
  • Double-Depth Burial

    An in-ground interment of two casketed human remains. TOP


  • Entombment

    The placement of a dead human body into a crypt or niche either within a mausoleum, sarcophagus, or columbarium. Both casketed remains and cremated remains can be entombed. TOP
  • Epitaph

    Colloquial text or a literary note, inscribed or cast on a grave marker or memorial. Formal name, dates of birth and passing, military service, and other formal biographical information are not part of an epitaph. TOP
  • Exhumation

    The removal of a body from a burial plot, or grave. TOP


  • Family Memorial (aka Family Stone)

    A memorial marker, typically made of granite or bronze, which generally marks a family's plot area rather than a specific burial site. Infrequently, a family stone may also have the names and dates of the family individuals. TOP
  • Foot Stone

    A flat memorial marker placed at the foot of the grave typically constructed of granite or bronze, similar in all regards to a headstone except in placement. TOP
  • Footing, or Foundation

    A slab, of concrete or granite, that serves as a structural foundation on which a grave marker or memorial is placed. TOP


  • Grave

    The specific and identifiable resting place for the burial of human remains. TOP
  • Grave Depression, aka Sunken Grave

    A depression on the surface of the ground over a gravesite that is caused by the collapse of the burial casket, vault or decedent's remains. TOP
  • Grave Fence

    A fence which surrounds a graveside. A grave fence is usually more than 12" in height and can be constructed of wood, metal or stone. TOP
  • Grave Landscaping

    Plantings or modifications made in the area of a gravesite to enhance the beauty of the area. TOP
  • Grave Marker

    A monument, typically constructed of bronze or granite, that serves to mark the location and inhabitant of a grave. TOP
  • Grave Offering

    An item left or sacrificed at a grave with the intent of remembrance, honor, or to help the decedent in the afterlife. TOP
  • Graveyard

    An area specifically to be used for the burial of the dead; different from a cemetery, a graveyard is commonly associated with a church or religious order. TOP


  • Headstone

    A flat memorial marker placed at the head of the grave typically made of granite or bronze., similar to a footstone in all regards except for placement. TOP


  • Inhumation

    The burial of the body of human remains in the ground. TOP
  • Inscription

    The writing on a memorial or grave marker. An inscription may include both biographical information and an epitaph. TOP
  • Interment

    The burial of a full, non-cremated, dead body in the ground. TOP
  • Inurnment

    The burial of cremated remains in the ground. TOP


  • Layout

    The spatial organization of a cemetery section or block. The layout may include designations for Sections, Blocks, Estates, Quadrants, and Spaces/Lots. TOP
  • Ledger, aka Ledger Stone

    A horizontal grave marker which is flush with the surface of the earth, or lawn-level, that covers nearly the entire boundaries of a grave. TOP
  • Lichgate

    The arch gate at the entrance to a cemetery typically made of iron. TOP
  • Lot

    Part of the space layout and location designation. Other location identification may include Section, Block, Estate or Quadrant. TOP


  • Maker's Mark

    An identifiable and distinctive marking, placed on a memorial that indicates its craftsman maker. TOP
  • Mass Grave

    A gravesite where many people are buried together in an undifferentiated manner. TOP
  • Mausoleum

    A building specifically designed to house human remains within crypts. A mausoleum may be indoor or outdoor and may include crypts for individuals or couples. Mausoleums may be public or private for a specific family. Within a mausoleum, there may be sections for created remains called a columbarium. TOP
  • Memorial

    When used in the context of a cemetery, a memorial services dual purposes to (a) indicate the location of a resting place and (b) allow for personalized remembrance. Outside of the context of a cemetery, a memorial can be any good or goods that service to focus attention to memorialize an individual. TOP
  • Memorial Park, aka lawn cemetery

    A specific type of cemetery developed in the 20th century that is typically characterized by large open expanses of green space. A memorial park cemetery will flush, lawn-level grave markers made of bronze or granite. TOP
  • Monolith

    A large, unitary, upright stone gravemarker that has no cap or base and that serves as a monument. TOP
  • Monument

    A headstone, footstone or grave marker, placed over or the vicinity of a grave in memory of the decedent. TOP
  • Mound, aka Burial Mound

    A mounded pile of earth over a grave location which makes the burial site. TOP
  • Multiple Grave

    A specific and identifiable grave where two or more individuals are buried together. TOP


  • National cemetery

    A burial ground established by the Congress of the United States for the interment of eligible members of the armed forces. Currently, the VA, veterans' affairs department, operates 114 cemeteries, the department of the interior operates 14 burial grounds, and the department of the army operates 2 cemeteries. TOP
  • Niche

    An above ground, enclosed space which serves as the resting place for cremated remains, typically a square or rectangular compartment within a columbarium. Niches may be constructed of granite, glass, or concrete and may provide for memorialization on the exterior of the niche closure. TOP


  • Obelisk

    A tall, slender gravemarker which is square in its cross-section and comes to a point at the top that acts as a landmark or memorial within a cemetery. TOP
  • Opening and Closing

    The labor services performed to prepare a site for burial, perform the burial service, and to restore the area ex-post. The opening and closing fee is typically separate from the cost of a plot or crypt and may be performed by the cemetery staff of the vault setting company. TOP
  • Orientation

    The direction of a burial within a grave determined by the direction that the head points when at rest. TOP
  • Outer burial container

    A concrete container placed around a casket to prevent the grave from sinking. TOP


  • Perpetual Care

    Funds held by a cemetery, or cemetery authority, specifically designated and restricted to maintain the cemetery grounds and facilities. Perpetual care funds are typically held in a trust and are subject to state oversight and audit. TOP
  • Plot, aka grave

    A specific, identifiable, site within a cemetery designated to serve as the final resting place for casketed of cremated remains. Rights to a plot may be conveyed via an easement or deed to an individual, family, or group. TOP
  • Pre-need

    Any final arrangements decisions or plans made prior to the time of a death even if death is imminent. TOP
  • Pre-plan, aka pre-planning

    The process of making final arrangements decisions and plans prior to the time of a death. TOP
  • Private Family Mausoleum

    An above-ground mausoleum building specifically designated for a single family. Typically, private family mausoleums are designed to entomb between 2 and 16 decedents. TOP
  • Public Cemetery

    A cemetery owned, controlled and maintained by a municipality. TOP


  • Rubbing

    Means of copying the details of a marker, memorial, or gravestone by placing specially designed carbon fiber paper over the surface monument and the rubbing gently to exact impressions of carving details, design elements, and inscriptions. TOP


  • Sarcophagus

    An above ground chamber for a casket entombment typically made from granite or stone. Sarcophagus entombment is similar to mausoleum entombment in that they are both protected, clean and dry. TOP
  • Scattering Garden

    An area within a cemetery designed to facilitate the scattering of ashes within a communal and not specifically identifiable location. TOP
  • Sepulcher

    A burial vault, crypt or small room wherein human remains are laid to rest. TOP


  • Tablet

    A headstone or memorial marker that is rectangular in shape and is set perpendicular to the ground. A tablet may have biographical information and epitaph inscriptions either in carved or raised lettering. TOP
  • Terrazzo

    A composite material used in the construction of some memorials and grave markers. Terrazzo consists of pieces and shards of chunks of granite, glass, and/or ceramics mixed into a cement. TOP
  • Tomb

    A large vault for the entombment or burial of a single deceased individual or for multiple deceased individuals. Tombs are typically underground but can extend into both underground and above ground portions. TOP


  • Undressed memorial

    A stone memorial or marker that has rough or unfinished surface or sides. TOP
  • Upright memorial, aka upright stone

    A headstone, monument or grave marker that is upright above the level surface of the surrounding ground typically set to a 90-degree angle with the earth. TOP


  • Vault, aka burial vault

    A sealed and lined container placed around a casket so as to simultaneously prevent the grave from sinking and to protect the casket from the surrounding area. In contrast, an outer burial container only prevents the grave from sinking and will not provide lasting protected to the casket. TOP

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