Because of incomplete burial records, the Cortez Cemetery board decided Thursday to stop selling plots in the oldest part of the cemetery.
The decision was triggered by a recent double-booking of a grave site in that area originally owned by Bob and Lorraine James, of Farmington, N.M., since 2001. A portion of the lot was later sold for a cremation burial in 2012.
“To avoid future problems, we will not sell lots in Blocks 1,2 and 3 until we can get the records straightened out,” said cemetery manager Chris Carlson. “We just don’t have good records for that older section.”
Plots already purchased in that area of the cemetery will still be honored, he said.
During a visit in May, the Jameses discovered a cremation burial and headstone in a portion of their deeded, full-body plots in Block 2.
The James purchased the side-by-side lots in 2001 in preparation for their death, and to provide their eight children with a place of remembrance. Their sites are adjacent to the grandparents of Bob James, who was born and raised in Cortez.
They presented the problem to the cemetery board in June, and officials acknowledged that they’d mistakenly double-sold the plot because of the cemetery’s incorrect bookkeeping. The grave site was labeled in the book with letters, typically used to indicate a cremation site. Because of the labeling error, the site was resold for a burial.
“I thought it was available based on the book, but I was wrong,” Carlson said.
The board discussed ways to correct the problem or find an alternate solution. According to the cemetery by-laws, a gravesite cannot be moved without permission from the family or through a court order. The family that bought the second deed in 2012 declined to move their son’s ashes or to be interviewed for this story.
“The family made it clear they do not want him moved, so we are at an impasse there,” Carlson said. “We’ve never moved a gravesite.”
The cemetery board said it plans to propose a settlement to Bob and Lorraine James: The cemetery would repurchase their two deeded sites at the higher, current rate of $350 per lot; or give them two adjacent full-body gravesites free of charge and free of burial and closure fees of about $900.
“We’re offering them all we can to try and resolve the situation, rather than through the courts,” board member Harold Kaime said.
In the meantime, board members said they are committed to updating records in the old part of the cemetery so they are more accurate.
“Mistakes will still happen, but we have corrected about 80 percent of them,” Carlson said. “Basically we direct people to the newer sections of the cemetery where we know the records are accurate.”
Historian June Head and the Daughters of the American Revolution, have agreed to conduct an inventory of the older cemetery section to help update the books. A computer program also is being utilized to enter deed, location, and burial information.
One issue is lost records, said board member Jim Bridgewater. “We can’t find records from 100 years ago.”
Before it was a special tax district in 1949, the cemetery was an association, with community volunteers doing all the work. Those books are long gone or possibly in somebody’s attic.
“It’s a mess, and in some cases there is no way to fix it because we don’t know what is there. But we work with what we have, and have slowly made progress with making corrections.”
Carlson said a board member’s June estimate of 200 burial mistakes was an exaggeration.
“It is more like two dozen burials in the wrong location,” Carlson said. “We have had three settlements internally, and one done by a court mitigator.”
Meanwhile, the Jameses are waiting for the cemetery offer, and don’t know if they’ll it.
“It’s unsettling, is the only way I can describe it,” Lorraine James said in a phone interview. “I’m a very organized person. We thought we had this straightened out in 2010 when the reserve stakes were put in, but apparently not.”