Municipal and Town Governments and Burial Sites | Wisconsin Historical Society

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Municipal and Town Governments and Burial Sites

Municipal and Town Governments and Burial Sites | Wisconsin Historical Society

If you are an official or employee or a municipal or town government, you should be aware that local units of government have legal responsibilities to protect human burial sites. Wisconsin law describes procedures that municipal and town officials must follow when selling land, dealing with abandoned cemeteries, or planning construction on public property.

Selling or Transferring Land with Human Burial Sites

A municipality (a town government, village, city, or other political entity defined as a municipality in Wis. Stats. 66.0621) may not sell or transfer land that contains a human burial site without certain restrictions, unless the transfer is to another municipality, Wis. Stats. 157.70(6m) (PDF, 35 KB).

  • The transfer must be approved by the Burial Sites Preservation Board.
  • The municipality must provide for the subsequent preservation of the burial site, usually by requiring that the burial site be set aside as green space or for some other use that won't disturb human burials.
  • The municipality may be required to hire an archaeologist to evaluate the condition of the burial site.

Caring for Abandoned Private Cemeteries

Municipalities and towns are required to assume ownership of abandoned private cemeteries. Cemeteries are considered abandoned if the cemetery association or other organization that once cared for the cemeteries no longer exists and no legal owner can be found, Wis. Stats. 157.115(1) (PDF, 164 KB).

  • The municipality or town must care for the cemetery to the same standards as other municipal or town cemeteries.
  • Six or more residents of your town or municipality may petition the circuit court to require that the town or municipality assume ownership or move any graves to another location.


Handling Archaeological Permits

When construction on municipal or town property requires an archaeological survey, the archaeologists will need a completed, signed Wisconsin Public Lands Field Archaeological Permit. The archaeologist hired to conduct the survey will mail the permit application to you for your signature (or another appropriate representative's signature). Construction cannot proceed until you sign the permit application and then email or mail it to the Wisconsin Historical Society for approval.

Learn More

Learn about the state and federal laws that protect burial sites, Native American mounds and other places where human remains are buried.

Have Questions?

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