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Burying Ground FAQ

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  1. Why are there missing headstones? Headstones were a very expensive commodity. Many individuals used wooden markers to indicate the location of a deceased loved one. In Florida's harsh environment, these markers would deteriorate over time.

  2. How were cemeteries organized? Communities often organized early cemeteries around churches or in family burial plots near town centers. In the 1800s, people began to worry about diseases from decaying bodies so they started to create larger cemeteries on the outskirts of communities. These cemeteries influenced the design of the modern cemeteries we have today.

  3. What’s the difference between a cemetery, graveyard or burying ground? While people often use these names interchangeably, there are actually differences between the three. A graveyard refers to a place of burial that is within a churchyard, while cemeteries are usually larger and owned by secular officials. These became common in the 19th Century with the rural cemetery movement. Burial grounds, while similar, are smaller more informal sites that are typically associated with minority groups.

  4. How deep were graves supposed to be? Before the 19th Century, graves had no designation regarding how deep they needed to be. Because of this, bones would often come out of the ground due to erosion, animals, or storms. By the 19th Century, new laws were created requiring minimum depths of three feet. In Florida, many people were buried in vaults or crypts because of the damp soil. These vaults do not elongate the decomposition of the body but ensure the grave remains undisturbed. 

  5. What type of materials were used to make headstones? Slate, granite, sandstone, marble and wood were all popular materials. Additionally, some headstones were made out of cement and zinc was also used for a brief period of time. The Manatee Burying Ground has an example of a zinc headstone. (James H. Helveston, Grave #21)

  6. What are the vaults made of? The vaults are typically brick overlaid with cement. This helps to keep the brick and mortar secure longer than brick and mortar alone. Most bodies were roughly ground level using this method. 

  7. Why do some headstones have locations on them? In some communities, there often was not a designated stone carver or access to elaborate materials like marble. Due to this, family members would often pay high prices to have stones sent from other locations. Eventually, individuals began to undertake producing local headstones from local resources, like cement or local stones.

  8. Why are some headstones cleaner than others? An important part of headstone preservation is removing moss and other debris from the surfaces of the stone. Manatee Village Historical Park has a group of volunteers who underwent training to learn how to properly clean headstones. While it is important to take care of the headstones, overdoing cleaning can actually harm them in the long run. To get involved, CLICK HERE to email us. 

  9. Why are all the burials facing east? In Christian burials, like the ones in the Manatee Burying Grounds, burials face east towards Jerusalem. 

  10. Why is the burying ground segregated? The Manatee Burying Ground reflects beliefs of the community at the creation of the burying ground. Throughout history, burials were separated between cemeteries based on the color of a person’s skin. In some communities, burials were even separated based on religious denominations. In places like St. Augustine, Protestants were required to be buried outside of the city limits, as only Catholics could be buried within St. Augustine. Manatee County had several historic cemeteries open to minorities including Rogers Cemetery (also known as Adams and Rogers Cemetery), New/Old Memphis Cemetery, Parrish Cemetery, and Rubonia Cemetery. 

  11.  Why is cemetery preservation important? Cemetery preservation helps aid in the study of early communities. Individuals can learn a lot about the trade patterns, industries, and individuals from headstones.

  12. What is Ground Penetrating Radar? What does GPR do? Ground Penetrating Radar, or GPR, is a remote sensing device used to detect anomalies underneath the soil surface. The GPR machine is wheeled across the ground and sends radar waves into the dirt. When the wave hits an object in the dirt, it will send the signal back to the machine to help determine the depth of the object. It can be used to find unmarked graves, former foundations for homes, as well as old pathways. To see our GPR results, CLICK HERE.

  13. How many unmarked graves were found after the GPR scan of the Manatee Burying Ground? The analysis of the GPR results show that there may be up to an additional 135 grave features within the areas surveyed that are unmarked. These features include possible burial vaults, as well as paths or walkways within the cemetery.

  14. Do you know who those unmarked graves are? Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing who is buried in unmarked  graves. The only way to know where someone is buried is to have the burial plot forms, and even those are often lost to time. Since the GPR only shows us disturbances, and does not show pictures, we will never know who is buried in an unmarked spot without extremely expensive and invasive DNA testing. Even still, depending on the time since burial, DNA testing may be unreliable as well. Unfortunately, people are not buried with signs.

  15. Do you do guided tours of the Burying Grounds? During Heritage Days in March and October are the most frequent times that staff lead tours through the Burying Ground. These tours take place during the day and are history-based. The best way to stay up to date with tours is to sign up for our monthly newsletter below! 

  16. Do you do ghost or nighttime tours? No. All of our tours are based on historical or oral stories and occur during the daytime for safety purposes. 

  17. How can we visit the cemetery? Manatee Village Historical Park holds a key for visitors to use for entrance to the cemetery during the museum’s hours of operation. Visitors can go to the Wiggins Store (two story brick building) to borrow the key and map of the cemetery.

  18. Where can I view historic pictures of the Burying Grounds online? The best resource is through the Manatee County Public Library System's Digital Collection. To find historic images of the Manatee Burying Ground, CLICK HERE.

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