Cemeteries, Graveyards, and Kirkyards. Oh, my!

Cemeteries, Graveyards, and Kirkyards. Oh My!

Cemeteries, Graveyards and Kirkyards

Is there a difference between cemeteries, graveyards, and kirkyards? Don’t they mean the same? Technically, no.

Some differences between cemeteries, graveyards, and kirkyards include location, space, religion, and headstone restrictions.


Graveyards are typically affiliated with churches and located on the church’s property. They tend to be smaller in space and are only for members of that religion.

“Grave” derives from the proto-Germanic (Germanic communities were Celtic) word “Graban,” which means “to dig.” The church dictated the appearance of the tombstones, including the size, inscriptions, and wording.


Webster’s Dictionary defines a cemetery as a burial site. It is not associated with a church or religion; anyone can be buried there.

The word cemetery has 14th-century roots dating back to an old French word, “cemetery,” derived from the medieval Latin word “cemetery.” The literal translation is “a place set aside for the burial of the dead.”

The history of cemeteries dates back thousands of years, evolving alongside human civilization and cultural practices. Early civilizations, such as the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, practiced burial rituals that involved interring the deceased in elaborate tombs, pyramids, or catacombs. These burial sites often held significant cultural and religious importance, reflecting beliefs about the afterlife and the continuity of existence beyond death.

Cemeteries have fewer restrictions on headstones. You can get as creative as possible regarding the headstone’s size, color, or inscription.

Many people don’t give much thought to the word cemetery or graveyard. Preference plays a big part in where to bury their loved ones.

Cemeteries come in all shapes and sizes. There seems to be one for every group of people. Below are a few different types.


Kirkyards, also known as churchyards, are burial grounds adjacent to churches. The term “kirk” is Scottish and refers to a church. For centuries, these burial grounds have been an integral part of religious and social life in Scotland and other Celtic nations.

Early History

Kirkyards date back to medieval times. In the early Christian period, burial grounds were often located within the confines of monasteries or religious settlements. As Christianity spread throughout Scotland and other Celtic regions, churches were built in various communities, and kirkyards became the standard burial places for residents.

Kirkyards were often the focal point of the community, not just for religious services but also as gathering places for social and community events. Over time, they became the final resting places for generations of families, with elaborate gravestones and monuments marking the resting places of the departed.


Kirkyards typically contain a variety of gravestones, ranging from simple markers to elaborate monuments. Many of these gravestones are adorned with intricate carvings and symbols, reflecting the beliefs and traditions of the time.

Kirkyards hold significant cultural and historical importance. They are often rich in history, with graves dating back centuries. Many kirkyards contain the final resting places of notable figures from local history, including religious leaders, nobility, and other prominent individuals.

Today, many kirkyards are maintained by local authorities or historical societies to preserve their historical and cultural significance. Efforts are made to conserve the gravestones and monuments and document the inscriptions and symbols found within these burial grounds.

Visiting kirkyards or any cemetery can provide a unique glimpse into the past for those interested in history and genealogy. Many people see these burial grounds to explore their family history or to appreciate these sacred places’ historical and cultural significance.

More Than Just Burial Grounds

Kirkyards are living repositories of history and culture. From their humble beginnings as simple burial sites to their current status as historical landmarks, kirkyards hold a special place for those who visit them, offering a connection to the past and a glimpse into the lives of those who came before us.

Types of Cemeteries

Cemeteries, Graveyards, and Kirkyards
  1. Municipal: County, Township, City: Land set aside by towns, cities, counties, and states for the dearly departed.
  2. Churchyard: Many church cemeteries are victims of urban sprawl. Finding records will require the determination of the parties responsible for overseeing the cemeteries.
  3. Faith-Based Cemeteries: Some of these cemeteries do not belong to a single church. Check with the county to see who manages these cemeteries.
  4. Family: Many family cemeteries have reverted to municipality-run operations. Check with the Genealogy Society for the area you are looking for a family.
  5. Private (Commercial): Some have one-stop shopping for your loved ones. Smaller ones are more like boutique-style garden cemeteries.
  6. Military, Veteran: Most people are aware of these types. They are referred to as National Cemeteries.
  7. Ethnic Cemeteries: Private burials absorbed by municipalities.
  8. Fraternal: Usually open to the public. (Masonic Orders, Oddfellows, etc.)
  9. Institutional (Hospital, Asylum, Prison, Poor Farm): These places are creepy and mostly sad.

As with all records, look online for any information regarding your ancestors. You can sometimes find pictures and memorials of your ancestors.

Final Thoughts

Burial Ground, Ireland

Cemeteries are more than just burial grounds; they are living repositories of history and culture. From their humble beginnings as simple burial sites to their current status as historical landmarks, cemeteries continue to hold a special place in the hearts of those who visit them. In addition, they offer a connection to the past and a glimpse into the lives of those who came before us.

Cemeteries offer a wealth of information about our ancestors, helping us connect with our family and pay tribute to their memory and legacy. Leave a comment. Happy meandering! Slànte Mhath!

#History #Kirkyards #Churchyards #CelticHistory #Scotland #CemeteryHistory #AncestralTravel

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