The World of the Cemetery Sexton/Caretaker
Sexton n. Church custodian charged with keeping the church and parish buildings prepared for meetings, caring for church equipment, and performing related minor duties such as ringing the bell and digging graves.
Long before the garden-style cemeteries of the 1800s, burial grounds were located on church grounds, and it was the job of the church sexton, or caretaker, to manage the burials in the cemetery. While today most cemeteries are privately owned, either by a corporation or a cemetery association, and graves are no longer dug by hand, the cemetery sexton still plays a vital role in the health of a cemetery.
At a high level, the role of a cemetery sexton is to take charge of, care for, and supervise the cemetery under the direction of the Cemetery Board or other governing party. But what exactly does that entail?
Opening and Closing Graves
Similarly, once a headstone is shipped to the cemetery, it is the cemetery sexton's responsibility to know where the monument is to be installed and direct the installation. In many cemeteries, it is also
The cemetery sexton is also responsible for the grounds, turf, andlandscaping maintenance. This includes mowing, filling holes and sinking graves, the upkeep of trees and plantings, the cemetery fence (if there is one), signage, and any memorial areas in the cemetery.
Rules and Regs
One of the least favorite jobs of a sexton is enforcing the cemeteryrules and regulations. This includes when people can visit, appropriate conduct in the cemetery, grave decorations, and litter.
It's all about the Map
Modern cemeteries are typically platted out and every square inch is accounted for. The cemetery may be comprised of different lot layouts in different sections of the cemetery. There may be differing sizes of graves and usually some smaller crematory plots. A map is created and each grave is identified by some naming or numbering scheme, usually identifying sections, blocks, lots, and plots, and it is the job of the sexton to maintain this map. This map is essential in the ability to do their job.
Not a Mason
It may seem that the sexton has an obligation with regard to themaintenance of markers and monuments; however this is not the case.The monuments are owned by the purchaser and installed on private property (the purchased lot) and it is really the responsibility of the family to perform any cleaning or repair. However, some cemeteries do step up and try to repair and curate old broken stones which have long been forgotten. This is purely a voluntary action on their part, and if they do it, it's because they love their cemetery.
Not a Genealogist
While many people contact cemetery sextons to find out genealogicalinformation on past interments, answering these types of questions, and doing genealogy is NOT their responsibility, and if they choose to provide this information, it is purely of their own free will.
Your Faithful Caretaker
Always remember: it is not the job of a sexton to know what isinscribed on the stone, or the relationship of any individual to any other individual, or to fix a broken stone; it is the sexton's job to
It's not just a job.
Source: Graveside Chronicles, by Linda K Lewis, Chronicles Editor of The World of the Cemetery Sexton
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