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Cemetery Preservation, Permits, and Workshops

Why Preserve?

Why preserve or protect burial grounds and cemeteries? They are memorials to the past that offer a unique view of our history, culture, and way of life. Their existence adds much to our understanding of the history of Illinois and its people. There are other important reasons for people to preserve cemeteries and they include:

• Honoring family, veterans and early pioneers from the area
• Righting a wrong (vandalism)
• Correcting what time has changed (leaning or toppled markers)

Cemeteries are important reminders of our past and provide to us a sense of who we are. More importantly, cemeteries represent a physical legacy for future generations and must be preserved as a historical resource. Preservation starts with establishing goals and providing a good training program. Goals of Cemetery Preservation Training include understanding how to develop a successful cemetery preservation plan, gaining experience to identify and resolve issues, and learning proper skills to repair common problems.


For unregistered burial grounds and cemeteries protected under the Human Remains Protection Act (HRPA), anyone wanting to probe the ground to locate and recover buried grave markers or to clean, repair, and reset grave markers must first obtain a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Each of these activities represents a disturbance to the ground (grave) or to a grave marker. The permitting process ensures that the proper methods and products are used when working to preserve a historic cemetery. In addition, the Department requires that permit applicants attend the Cemetery Preservation Training, Basic Workshop. The links below take you to the permit application, the landowner permission form, and the cemetery preservation report form for cemetery preservation projects. Written permission from the landowner is also required. There are two purposes for the permit application. One, it is required by law. Second, it helps you to plan and organize your work. The permit is free. Information on the workshops is provided below.

Cemetery Preservation

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is responsible for protecting nonregistered Illinois cemeteries that are more than 100 years old. The Department owns and manages over 50 cemeteries statewide. The IDNR has hosted workshops and provided guidance to numerous groups responsible for maintaining and preserving cemeteries.

The IDNR has developed a series of instruction handbooks to help guide you through a cemetery preservation project. They were developed in response to the many inquires received. Most often, those questions focused on how to clean and repair gravestones, sources of assistance, and the laws that govern cemeteries. The first handbook, "Illinois Historic Cemetery Preservation Handbook: A Guide to Basic Preservation,” focuses on research, planning, and documentation. It is important that you research the cemetery, document what is present, and create a plan of action. The second handbook, “Cemetery Preservation Training, Part I: Basic Workshop,” focuses on assessment, planning, probing, cleaning, and simple resetting. This is the handbook we use for the hands-on Basic Workshop.

Basic cemetery training involves elementary tasks such as documenting, washing, probing, and resetting certain types of markers. The Basic Workshop is divided into two parts. In the morning, we present a Power point presentation on preservation laws, why we preserve cemeteries, and the basic methods we use to do this. Our work highlights probing for and exposing and cleaning buried markers, resetting of simple markers. In the afternoon, class participants learn the proper techniques to probe for and clean buried markers, how to document the markers, and how to reset simple tablet markers. It’s a rewarding process!

Advanced cemetery training teaches the more complex techniques of resetting and repairing additional markers like pillars, obelisks, and multi-base monuments. The advanced cemetery preservation workshop has two components. First, we teach participants how to safely lift markers and how to reset multi-base monuments. During the second part of the advanced class participants learn about the use of mortars. We focus on why using mortars is successful, what mortars are appropriate for historic grave markers, and how to properly repair fragmented markers. Completion of the Basic Workshop is a pre-requisite for the Advanced Workshop.

In both basic and advanced cemetery training it is important to be aware of what techniques to use and what techniques to avoid. Commonly used but inappropriate and damaging techniques include setting stones in concrete, repairing broken markers with concrete instead of correct mortar, and using common adhesives, cleaning solutions and techniques that will further damage the marker.

Cemetery Preservation Training Workshops

In 2024, the IDNR is offering three cemetery preservation workshops:

  • May 31 - June 1, 2024—two-day Basic and Advanced Repairs Workshop, Colchester (click here for a flier; registration has ended and the class is FULL)
  • June 14, 2024—one-day Basic Workshop, Watseka (click here for a flier; click here for a registration form)
  • June 29, 2024—one-day Basic Workshop, Marion (click here for a flier; registration has ended and the class is FULL)

Please contact for more information.