What to Do with Unclaimed Cremains

Guest blog by Cris Nagla, posted with her permission. Cris and her partner, Dennis Allen, are well known genealogists in the Midwest. They also manage Avon Cemetery in Polk County, Iowa and host a website that provides funeral home and cemetery records, www.gentreasures.com
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Have you ever wondered what happens to unclaimed cremains?  It is sad that families do not claim the cremation of their loved ones.  As child, parent and grandparent how can you not claim your deceased love one?  This just boggles our minds.  We would do anything in our power to make sure our loved ones were taken care of.   Here is a story that will tug at your heart strings.
          On Tuesday July 10, 2018 we were contacted by a lovely lady who had a question about the cemetery.  She wanted to know if we did mass burials.  While this is not heard of very often we did know of at least one in the city of Des Moines.  She went on to tell us how she got involved with a funeral home that had a few unclaimed cremains of infants and one teenage child.  This woman and a group from her church took these unclaimed children and gave them some much needed attention.  They recorded all the information for each of them such as birth and death dates and gave each of them blankets and toys to be placed in the vault with them.  The group then handmade a pine vault for the seven cremains to be placed in.   They made sure it was waterproof, so they would be safe and snug.   After talking to her we told her to give us a few minutes and we would see what we could do to help her bury these babies.  Our first thought was to contact the trustees about donating a spot in the cemetery for them, but we then remembered a retired Des Moines Firefighter that had a bunch of spaces in our cemetery, so we contacted him to see if he was willing to donate one of his spaces for these babies.   He quickly agreed to do so.  Now our next step was to tell the trustees of the cemetery and they said it would be fine if everything was above board and in compliance with the State of Iowa rules.  With everything now in place that left our gravedigger’s fee.  So, we contacted him and tugged at his heart strings a little and told him the story and he agreed to dig the one for the babies at no charge.  Next, we called the lady back and told her everything was set up and we were good to go.  One of the local monument companies is donating a headstone for the children with their names on it.
            Now, you would think the story would stop here but of course not.  While talking to her we learned that the funeral home had additional cremains that need to find a final resting place.   So, we contacted the funeral home and inquired about the remaining cremations.  The funeral home said they had contacted the city of Des Moines about donating a spot in one of their cemeteries and they were told that they would only allow scattering of ashes.  The funeral home preferred to keep the ashes in tack.  So once again we went to the trustees and asked about donating a couple of graves in the cemetery for the remaining cremations.  They agreed to allow us to do the mass burial if all the documentation was in order.  So, we contact the funeral home and told them that we would give them two spaces to bury the remaining cremations.  All of them are going to be in a vault with their information recorded.  Both burials will be taking place sometime this Fall.
            So, a very special thank you to a group of people who took these loved ones under their wings to make sure they had a final resting place.