Fight Over Cemetery Access Heard by U.S. Supreme Court

Not all cemeteries are located on public property that is maintained by a staff. In the past, it was not unheard of for families to bury their deceased loved ones on their property. Years later, someone may purchase the property who is unrelated to the original family. This is where things get tricky – and end up in court.

Mary Knick owns property in Pennsylvania. It appears that there are some very old graves on her property, marked by what appear to be tombstones. No one seems to know, for certain, if there are bodies buried there or not.

Robert Vail discovered in 2008 an obituary of an ancestor named Micah Vail, who was buried on the property that Mary Knick now owns. Robert Vail believes that other family members may have been buried there, too, including a Revolutionary War Veteran. He wants to honor them.

Mary Knick, however, wants her property to stay private. This has resulted in legal problems. In 2012, Scott Township supervisors passed an ordinance that granted public access to private cemeteries during daylight hours. Landowners could be fined $300 to $600 per day if they didn’t comply.

Mary Knick has sued, claiming her property rights were violated. The Scott Township Common Pleas Court refused to take on the case. Mary then filed her case in U.S. District Court. The federal court granted Scott Township’s motion to dismiss the case.

The Supreme Court of the United States heard Mary Knick’s case on October 3, 2018. The ruling is expected to be revealed sometime in June of 2019. The outcome of this case could determine if genealogists can continue to access other private cemeteries.

The Supreme Court is not going to determine whether or not there actually are bodies buried on Mary Knick’s property. Instead, they are going to figure out if the town has to pay Mary Knick if they require her to make the cemetery open to the public.

Related Articles at

* The Eradication of an Ancestor’s Cemetery

* Things to Know if Your Home has a Cemetery on the Property

* Some Chicago Cemeteries have been Repurposed

< Return To Blog Pay her that is ridiculous! If the Cemetery was there before she was of course it should be open to the public at no charge to anyone including the town, county, or state!
Karen Morgan-Palmer 4/10/18

The ruling is expected to be revealed sometime in June of 2018 / DON'T YOU MEAN JUNE 2019 ? /// It should lawfully be allowed WITH RESPECT to the owner's property of course.
Jeff McBride 4/10/18

Jeff McBride, Thank you for pointing out my error! You are correct, the blog post should have said 2019, not 2018. I have fixed it. - Jen
Jen Thorpe 4/10/18

If the woman insist not letting people on her property the state should make her pay to have these graves moved then she might change her mind this is an expense chore.
Adolphus Bailey 4/10/18

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