GARDINER — When one of Geraldine Rideout’s loved ones recently passed away, she discovered a significant change in Gardiner’s policy on burying people in city-owned cemeteries.
Gardiner officials now require documentation of ownership of burial plots before burials can take place, under an order that took effect earlier this month.
“It opened up a Pandora’s box,” said Rideout, whose mother bought the family cemetery land in 1948. “We had no idea there would be this problem.”
While members of his family, including his parents, have been buried in Libby Hill Cemetery for the past seven decades, Rideout had no documents to prove ownership of the land.
“My two brothers are buried there, my mother and father are buried there, a baby who died in the 60s-something is buried there,” Rideout said. “Would I put people in this lot if it wasn’t a family lot?”
But it has apparently happened in other cases. Anne Davis, acting city manager of Gardiner, said the city has become aware of three cases in which people assumed land was available for a burial when in fact they did not own it or it was already busy.
“We don’t want to be able to tell a family they have to dig the person up because they’re in the wrong plot,” Davis said. “It’s just awful. We don’t want that to happen.
Muriel Glidden, Rideout’s mother, purchased the family plot at Libby Hill Cemetery in 1948 when her husband, George, died.
When Glidden died in 2013, Rideout inherited documents from her mother dating back decades, including a receipt for the purchase of the cemetery land.
“She kept it all,” Rideout said. “It was horrible.”
When Rideout tried to find the documents in this case, she couldn’t find them. Rideout said her son laminated paper files to prevent them from further deteriorating, and that she stored them in a safe. But when she looked for them, they were gone. And there was no action.
“People back then had a choice: you could either submit your deed to the town or city or file it with the deed registry,” said Gardiner City Clerk Alicia Ballard. “We find that a lot of people have done neither.”
When she started as a town clerk in Gardiner, Ballard took on a range of responsibilities she had to learn, including elections. City-owned cemeteries weren’t high on his list of priorities until some complaints began to surface.
Gathering information on lot sales, Ballard discovered that city records were spotty, including lot maps that would show the sale of cemetery lots.
Before changes to the city ordinance were enacted, Ballard said, families told funeral homes where their loved ones could be buried, but there was no verification with the city of who owned the plots. of cemetery.
“Without the approval of the family member who owned the lot, people were buried in the wrong lots or in the wrong cemetery,” Ballard said.
To help sort out the property issue, Rideout enlisted the help of Councilman Terry Berry, who represents the district where she lives.
“The order we changed doesn’t say ‘act,'” Berry said. “It says ‘proof of ownership.’ I think the word ‘act’ has become very confusing.”
Rideout had other documents, including details recorded in the family Bible and the mention on her mother’s death certificate that she was the informant, indicating that she was the next of kin and that she would therefore have inherited the lot.
When she arrived in town, Ballard went with Rideout and her daughter, Melissa Knox, to the cemetery to check on the location of the Glidden family lot and who was buried there.
Once this was confirmed, Ballard was able to draft a deed which has since been recorded in the Kennebec County Deed Registry.
Rideout said she’s worried she’s not the only one in this predicament. She and her daughter are now helping Rideout’s ex-husband’s family ensure they have the correct documentation for their plots at Libby Hill Cemetery.
While it’s possible other people will find themselves in a similar situation, the number is limited and unlikely to increase, city officials said. Of the three cemeteries owned by the town of Gardiner, only Libby Hill still has space available for interments, but no additional land for sale.
“That situation was unfortunate, but it was a good eye-opener,” Ballard said. “It’s a big problem, and that’s how we’re going to deal with it going forward.”
She said she planned to submit a request to the city council for a technical map to be completed of Libby Hill Cemetery to develop a detailed map of where people are buried and what land is available.
In the meantime, people can take steps to meet the new requirements.
“We always recommend that people record their acts, so there’s no doubt about it,” Davis said.
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