Geraldine Rideout straightens a decoration Tuesday at the grave of her mother, Muriel Glidden, at Libby Hill Cemetery in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — When one of Geraldine Rideout’s relatives died recently, she discovered an important change in Gardiner’s policy on burying people at city-owned cemeteries.

Gardiner officials are now requiring documentation of ownership of burial plots before burials can take place, under an ordinance that went into effect earlier this month.

“This has opened a can of worms,” said Rideout, whose mother bought the family cemetery lot in 1948. “We didn’t know there would be this problem.”

While family members, including her parents, have been buried at Libby Hill Cemetery over the past seven decades, Rideout had no paperwork to prove ownership of the lot.

“My two brothers are buried there, my mom and my dad are buried there, a baby that died in ’60-something is buried there,” Rideout said. “Would I be putting people in that lot if it wasn’t a family lot?”

But that apparently has happened in other instances. Anne Davis, Gardiner’s acting city manager, said the city has learned of three instances in which people assumed a lot was available for a burial when, in fact, they did not own it or it was already occupied.

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“We don’t want to be in a position to tell a family they have to dig the person up because they are in the wrong plot,” Davis said. “That’s just horrible. We don’t want that to happen.”

Muriel Glidden, Rideout’s mother, bought the family lot 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 lot.

“She kept everything,” Rideout said. “It was awful.”

Melissa Knox places a decoration Tuesday at the grave of her grandmother, Muriel Glidden, at Libby Hill Cemetery in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

When Rideout tried to track down the documents in this case, she could not find them. Rideout said her son had laminated some paper records to keep them from deteriorating further, and she had stored them in a chest. But when she looked for them, they were no longer there. And there was no deed.

“Back in the day, people were given a choice: You could either have your deed submitted to the town or the city, or you could file it through the registry of deeds,” said Alicia Ballard, Gardiner’s city clerk. “We’re finding a lot of people did neither.”

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When she started as city clerk in Gardiner, Ballard took on a range of responsibilities she needed to learn, including elections. City-owned cemeteries were not at the top of her priority list until some complaints started surfacing.

In piecing together information about lot sales, Ballard has found city records are spotty, including lot cards that would indicate the sale of cemetery lots.

Geraldine Rideout explains Tuesday what she had to do to obtain a deed to her family’s lot at Libby Hill Cemetery in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Before the changes to the city ordinance were enacted, Ballard said, families would indicate to funeral homes where loved ones could be buried, but there was no verification with the city of who owned cemetery plots.

“Without the approval of the family member who owned the lot, people have been buried in the wrong lots, or in the wrong cemetery altogether,” Ballard said.

To help straighten out the ownership issue, Rideout sought help from City Councilor Terry Berry, who represents the district where she lives.

“The ordinance that we changed doesn’t say ‘deed,'” Berry said. “It says ‘proof of ownership.’ I think the word ‘deed’ became very confusing.”

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Rideout did have other documentation, including details recorded in the family Bible, and the notation on her mother’s death certificate that she was the informant, indicating she was the next of kin and, therefore, would have inherited the lot.

A city ordinance on cemetery deeds is posted at Libby Hill Cemetery in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

When she came to the city, Ballard went with Rideout and her daughter, Melissa Knox, to the cemetery to verify the location of the Glidden family lot and who has been buried there.

Once that was confirmed, Ballard was able to draft a deed that has since been recorded at the Kennebec County Registry of Deeds.

Rideout said she is concerned she is not the only one in this predicament. She and her daughter are now helping Rideout’s ex-husband’s family make sure it has the correct documentation for its plots at Libby Hill Cemetery.

While it is possible other people may find themselves in a similar situation, the number is limited and it is not likely to increase, city officials said. Of Gardiner’s three city-owned cemeteries, only Libby Hill still has space available for burials, but no additional lots for sale.

“This situation was unfortunate, but it was a good eye-opener,” Ballard said. “This is a big problem, and this is how we’re going to handle it going forward.”

She said she plans to bring a request to the City Council to have an engineered map completed of Libby Hill Cemetery to develop a detailed map of where people are buried and what lots are available.

In the meantime, there are steps people can take to meet the new requirements.

“We would always recommend that people register their deeds, so there is no question,” Davis said.


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