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A Grave Matter

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A Grave Matter
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Fall 2013 and Revised 16 Oct 2013

If you have any information about the folks mentioned in this article, please send your information to us at the Prentice Newsletter. Be sure to give the full title and date of this article in the Subject line of the email.


A Grave Matter. A few years ago, I visited my Dewalds' ancestral home in Losheim, Germany, not too far from the France-German border in southern Germany. A distant cousin, with whom I was staying, showed me around the town, including the small cemetery. It was carefully landscaped with quite beautify headstones.

He said that every 20 years there was a new burial in any given plot and the headstone was replaced with a new headstone for the new person in that given burial spot. Naturally I was curious about what happened to the person previously buried there. He said he didn't know, and in the week I was in Losheim I could not locate anyone who could tell me what happened to the previous burial. I left Losheim still wondering what the answer was. I couldn't help but think about the possibility that the body was hauled to the local dump and disposed of there. The question remained unanswered in the back of my mind for the next 28 years.

Then, on Friday, 11 Oct 2013, I found the apparent answer in the Wall Street Journal in an article on the bottom of the front page in an article entitled, "Grave Problem: Nothing is Rotting in the State of Norway." It read, in part, as follows:

    "Oslo's funeral director has long wrestled with the particularly morbid job of dealing with Norway's longtime insistence on "plastic graves". . .Shortly after World War II, Norwegians began a three-decade-long practice of wrapping their dead in plastic before laying them to rest in wooden caskets, believing that with the old bones and casket parts still there, the practice was more sanitary. Hundreds of thousands of burials later, gravediggers realized the airtight conditions kept the corpses from decomposing. . .

    "For centuries, Norwegians -and others in Europe (emphasis added) - have reused graves after 20 years, so as to conserve land. . . .

    "Old bones and casket parts are left there under new coffins with new inhabitants. . ."

Oslo solved the plastic problem by drilling holes in the ground down to the casket and inserting a lime-based solution on the corpse, accelerating decomposition. The process is both simple and inexpensive. Within 2 weeks grass re-grows over the drill hole, and within a year a body will decompose. The gravesite is then reusable for the next burial there.

Since the article mentioned that other countries in Europe used the same 20 year re-burial practice, it seems to me that I now had an answer to my question about burials in Losheim. The practice in Norway about reburying in old burial sites after 20 years must have been the same practice that was used in my ancestral home of Losheim, Germany. The old bones and few casket parts were left there in the Losheim cemetery under new coffins with new inhabitants.

You may wish to give some thought to the idea that the same practice was probably followed in the burial of your European ancestors.

Contact us: If you have any information about the folks mentioned in this article, please send your information to us at the Prentice Newsletter. Be sure to give the full title and date of this article in the Subject line of the email.

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