We use the two terms; cemetery and graveyard, all the time, believing it means the same. Traditionally, people were buried near their church, in the churchyard. This became known as the graveyard. As churchyards / graveyard filled up over the decades and greater populations in towns and cities, a separate burial location was needed.
By the late 1700s, the concept of burials in a separate piece of property was developed and these were known as a cemetery. That term came from an Old French term ‘cimetiere’, which meant, ‘graveyard’. However, that French term came from Latin and even older as a Greek term ‘koimeterion’, which means ‘a sleeping place’.
By the 1800s, cemeteries in the United States were becoming quite popular. They were either a business run or operated by a town government. It had also been the practice if a family had a good deal of property to bury their relatives on family land. With the growth of the cemeteries, many people were reburied in a town’s cemetery.
How well a graveyard vs a cemetery is maintained over the years does depend on who is doing it. There are still many lovely, well-cared for graveyards alongside churches. There are also some well-kept cemeteries, some run as a business, others by a local government agency. The opposite is true, it all depends, if someone is helping in the expense of upkeep.
Finding family burial plots is rarer. There is one in Martin County, Florida, the Ashley Family Cemetery. This is the finally resting place for members of the Ashley family, dating back to 1910s. It was part of their family home property. By the late 1970s when a housing developer purchased acres of neighboring property, it was agreed by the declining Ashley family to turn over the family plot to the developer with the agreement to keep it separate, fenced off and maintained for the future. So in that sense, it is a cemetery, cared for by a business.
Photos: St. David’s Sherman churchyard dating back to the late 1700s in York Co., PA; Ashley Family Cemetery in Martin Co., FL.
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