Tennessee Historic Cemetery Preservation Program

Why Protect Cemeteries?

Cemeteries are places for reflection and commemoration.  They are of interest to historical and genealogical researchers.  Cemeteries also help build a sense of community.  Whenever a cemetery is desecrated or threatened by uncontrolled development, descendants and citizens may feel violated.

Cemeteries face many threats.  Deterioration due to natural factors is probably the most serious.  Most other damage is done by people--even sometimes by those who try to preserve them!  Even though commercial development, agricultural land-clearing, and desecration are the probably the best known threats, improper cleaning and restoration techniques are just as--if not more--damaging.

For example, sometimes people use shaving cream, flour, or rubbings to read information off headstones, but any of these methods cause damage, even if you don’t see it.  Using a high lumen flashlight or a mirror works just as well and does not require physical contact with the stone.

A clean headstone is desirable to many cemetery enthusiasts, but cheap cleaners from your local hardware store should never be used.  Currently, a product called D2, sold by conservator supply companies, is preferred by cemetery conservation specialists because it is proven safe for the stone.

Improperly repairing a broken headstone is a potential way of causing permanent damage.  Cement or commercial adhesives from your local hardware store are never advised.  Professional conservators assure that the repairs they do are reversable.  A properly repaired stone can look almost as if it had never been broken! 

Graham Perry, Cemetery Program Specialist                                                                                                                                               graham.perry@tn.gov                                                                                                                                                                                           (615) 532 - 0087

Although the State of Tennessee does not offer grants for cemetery preservation and maintenance at this time, here are a few funding options:

Daughters of the American Revolution Historic Preservation Grant

Tennessee Sons of the American Revolution Grave Markers

National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grant Program

National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant

National Trust Preservation Funds

Department of Veterans Affairs Headstones, Markers, and Medallions for Placement in Private Cemeteries


Cemetery Non-Profit Group Creation and religious tax credit

501c3 Non-Profit Group

501c13 Cemetery “Company”

Tax Exemption Manual


Learn more about cemetery preservation in Tennessee by clicking on the categories below:  

Guidelines, Laws, And Frequently Asked Questions

Guidelines, Laws, And Frequently Asked Questions

Preservation Practices and Resources

Preservation Practices And Resources

TN Historic Cemetery Register

Tennessee Historic Cemetery Register and GIS Map of the State’s Historic Cemeteries

Cemetery Relocation Petitions

Cemetery Relocation Petitions