I know that some families have 'family plots' and cemeteries on private land, but there are so many cemeteries open to the public - Am I allowed to just take a photo of any tombstone and publish it online without worries of repercussions? Are there circumstances that would make this dicey or questionable?

I regularly use Find A Grave in my research, but have yet to become a contributor of images. Would like to in the future, but just wondering if the posting of pics is 100% okay? Also wondering if the children of a deceased relative could feel possessive about a tombstone...? Like, "How dare you post an image of my mum's grave!"

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    Where is the grave located? I believe it may be protected as an work of art (if it is not just a simple stone). - The data on the stone is available to the public, anyway, but publishing the image may be restricted in some legislations. Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 7:46

6 Answers 6


Any person can walk up to a grave and see the marker. Images you take of the grave marker are yours to do with as you please. If you can see the marker while on public property even if it is on private property you are legally welcome to take pictures of it. If you are on private cemetery (because you were invited) and the owner says you can take a picture, then you are good.

See the link below, just because a cemetery is private property does not make the cemetery private, same as a mall is privately owned but is public space.

Taking someone else's photo of a grave marker and posting that is not ok unless you know the photo is in the public domain or you have written permission by the photographer to use the photo.


For public/private cemetery legalities see here for photography legality see here. If you can see it from public property, take the picture, you're in the clear, even if it is on private property. A grave marker is not necessarily public record as they don't have to be filed or recorded by the government as far as I can determine.

  • On Find-A-Grave you can click on the name of the photographer to get to their contributor page which will generally have a way to contact them (or sometimes give permission or deny permission to use their photos in their profile)
    – Jeni
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 11:55
  • @Justin808, what about grave markers on private land? E.g. the family plots mentioned by the OP.
    – David L
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 16:18
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    @DavidL, it may be uncouth to stand on the road and take a picture of a grave marker, same as taking a picture of a random house, but legally you're in the clear. Now if you go onto private land without permission that's called trespassing an is not so much legal as illegal. Always ask before going on/into private lands and buildings. Family plots may or may not be on private lands.
    – Justin808
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 16:28
  • I'm not sure if a grave marker is in fact public record. Can you please give some reference where that is stated.
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 1:21

The issue of taking photos in cemeteries was covered in the Legal Genealogist blog http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2012/10/22/cemetery-photos-permission-required/

And there are plenty of places where you are only allowed to take photos under certain circumstances, or with certain restrictions on subsequent use. That's because the cemeteries may be open to the public but they are owned by bodies who can set any (reasonable) rules they like.

  • Welcome AdrianB38!
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 23, 2012 at 16:00
  • Yes. I agree with this. For our cemetery photography project, we needed to get permission from the organizations owning the cemeteries. And in one case, for a no-longer used cemetery, we had to get the key from organization to get into the cemetery. lkessler.com/cemphoto.shtml
    – lkessler
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 1:11
  • I just found a reference to the Legal Gen post elsewhere and came to post it, only to find you had beaten me to it. One thing you might add to your answer is that Judy addresses the privacy issue in one of the comments to this post.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 16:58

Gravestones are public. The only privacy issue is when one stone shows both a husband and wife, two birth dates, but only one death date. Meaning one spouse is probably still living. I would crop the photo, and not publish the living spouse's portion.


As a long time user and contributor to the FindAGrave website, I must point out, that copyright issues are outlined in the FindAGrave FAQ section.

In short, the website's administrators contend that any "original" photo, taken or created by any person, is considered to be a copyright protected item. Other people who wish to use that person's personally created photo, must ask for the photographers permission first, before reposting the photo anyplace else online or for their personal or public use.

This is as it pertains to photos of monument stones and family photos of the subjects in the memorials. To clarify, this rule has to do more with protecting the original photographer who personally created a specific image of a monument stone...and not the data that is listed on the stone, which is, in most cases, public knowledge.

  • I've edited Marianne's answer to add some whitespace and make it a bit easier to read. It doesn't really answer the question, but I've left the answer here in case the content is useful to others. I also attempted to find the specific FAQ referred to in the answer, so I could link it in, but it wasn't clear which section of the FAQ was meant.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 0:02

In genealogy we HAVE to be aware of privacy and data protection (even though we do it without thinking, and may not call it that).

The {UK} National Archives provides guidance on the copying of BDM certificates in the UK, which contrary to my original opinion, are not copyright - although copying of BDM certificates of living individuals is not permitted.

However, as @Justin808 has observed, Gravestones are public monuments.

On the other hand, I have personal issues about photographing random stones, so restrict myself to known family members - in which case the answer to the question is "because they're my 2nd cousin 3 times removed - that means we're related. I'm Andrew, how do you do!"

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    do you have a reference for applying copyright to BDM certificates? I thought that as gov't records they had copyright released? Or does that apply only to US Federal records? What are the governing laws for non-US documents? Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 5:30
  • Updated answer, Gene
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 6:00
  • No probs. Glad to help...
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 6:25

I would ask both the cemetery and the family for permission.

Find a Grave posted pictures of my family members, in particular a brother and sister, and when my mom discovered this, it brought up a lot of grief and sadness and the painful reminder that they are not with us.

As far as I know it is legal because it is open to the public, but out of courtesy, I would ask both the cemetery management, and families, if possible.

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    I edited out your third sentence because your answer already makes an excellent point while I think discussing the photographer's attitude risks diminishing that.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 0:10

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