Copyright © Janice Tracy, Cemeteries of Dancing Rabbit Creek.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Are Burials Becoming Extinct?


Last evening, we had dinner with two other couples who are close friends. It was a lovely dinner, with stimulating conversation that included topics such as our children and grandchildren, the woes of our local sports teams, the upcoming election, and cremation. Yes, cremation became a dinner topic when one of the hosts brought up the subject of her "final plans." Instead of a morbid conversation, it was rather enlightening, and I would like to share a few thoughts here today about that particular topic.

I have seen a trend in metropolitan areas during the past few years that people are now considering cremation their first choice when making those "final plans," and a "Celebration of Life" or a memorial service is held in lieu of a traditional funeral service. Two of the couples from dinner belong to two very large churches near where we live, one Methodist and one Catholic, and these churches have already added a section known as a "columbarium" to their chapels. The "columbarium" is a small space in a wall where families can preserve the ashes of their departed loved ones. Each space is marked with the name of the deceased and the date of death. In addition to the word "columbarium," I also learned another new word recently, "inurnment," which means "to encase the ashes of the deceased in an urn."

One reason for this shift in tradition is the simple fact that large metropolitan areas are running out of room, and in some cases not making room, for cemeteries. Building hotels, business towers, and high-rise condos seems to be of a much higher importance, and sometimes small, old, family cemeteries must be moved to make way for the construction. The availability of burial plots in already existing cemeteries has become scarce and if plots are available, they are very expensive. A single plot in an older, more well-established cemetery can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000, depending on its location, i.e., whether it is in close proximity to a major street, the maintenance barn, or a parking lot. Findng multiple gravesites together is increasingly more difficult.

The prices alone for these burial plots make cremation seem a much more attractive option to some.

What is the future of the cemetaries of our country? Are they becoming obsolete in the cities? Are we facing a change in how our families feel about treating the remains of their loved one?

And what does this mean to us as genealogists and family historians?

How will be trace our roots?

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