Friday, April 24, 2020

Czech cemeteries - why there are no old gravestones?

There is one request which appears repeatedly in the guide requests I get - can we visit a local cemetery and look for the gravestones of my family? 

Sure we can. We can walk around the parish cemetery to which the village/town your ancestors lived in belonged. But if your ancestors immigrated to the U.S. hundred and more years ago, we most probably won't find them. Why?

Because the Czech system of preserving gravestones and graves is a bit specific. The grave is in its place as long as the family (or someone else) is paying for it. Yes, the grave plot is rented to the family and if the family doesn't pay, it is cancelled (usually about 10 years of not paying). 

The grave is then digged out, rests of the coffins are removed, but the bones are left in the hole (well, yes, without much piety) and the grave plot is rented to another family. 

The reason this is done is that the number of grave plots is often limited by the cemetery area. The cemeteries were placed around the parish church and the area was too small for unlimited number of graves. Sometimes there are new cemeteries outside the town/village - but even there this rule is in place because people are already too used to it. 

But sometimes one is lucky enough to find a grave which is well maintained by the family which still lives in the Czech Republic - maybe you will be one of those lucky people. :)


  1. Hello,

    I know about this because of my own research. Do I understand you though that the remains (bones) of those buried there previously are left in the graves? If that is so, then would the cemetery still have records in which plot they lay? I have been trying to find my ancestors resting place in Pribram, but have been unable to for this very reason.

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  3. This is always the case. I prepaid my family tombstone/grave for the existence of the cemetery. So far I know the bones of abolished graves were placed in a chapel - kostnice. It might not be the case nowadays.

    1. In following a post on the Czech Genealogy group, I re-read this article and noticed your comment. My Filip family was from Kostnice (now Skotnice). Have you researched your ancestors there?

  4. Thank you for this most interesting information. We were able to find my great grandfather's gravestone in Opatevice II when we visited back in 1998. He had died in 1925. My great grandmother had died during the influenza epidemic back in 1918, and we could not locate her grave. Don't know if she even ever had a gravestone. I also don't know whether our relatives in Bohemia have paid to keep up his grave. What becomes of the gravestone if they didn't? As I recall his was rather elaborate.

  5. And add to that the fact that some families sell their prepaid right to the plot on the cemetery along with the gravestones to someone else if they live far away and there is no close relative nearby who would take care of the grave. The urns with cremated remains are in most cases moved to the grave in new location but not allways, the bones are left in the soil.

    Oh and Jeannie Zahrada, the old gravestones from unpaid graves are sometimes reused on other graves or even the same ones with new lenders or put to other uses like they recently found cobblestones cut from gavestones from some old jewish cemetery in Wenceslas square in Prague.