Following a mix-up at the city-owned cemetery last year, Kirkland officials have been working to update their records and procedures on how plots are registered and recorded.
Last year, a family tried finding their father’s urn to place their recently deceased mother’s ashes in the same spot.
They soon found that their father’s location was incorrectly listed due to a 2013 records error.
As a result, the city set out to accurately record where burial plots were and who owns them.
Deputy City Manager Tracey Dunlap said there are many vacant plots in the cemetery where someone purchased the space but was not buried there. In these cases, the city must find the owner and often buys back the plot.
They have bought back more than 20 sites during the past five years, she said.
“Part of it’s because we’ve just had more activity of late with burials,” she said.
While interest in the cemetery has remained relatively steady since it was created in 1888, Dunlap said more people have been contacting the city about burial or urn plots.
Figuring out which plots are empty could free up some sorely needed space.
Of the nearly 7,000 burial and urn plots and niches, there are no burial spots available with some 70 names on a city-maintained waiting list. But there are more than 900 urn spots available.
The majority of the city’s work has been focused on cross-checking paper records, dating back to when the cemetery was created, with names on gravestones and cataloguing and digitizing the results.
So far, around 1,500 record reviews have occurred, Finance Director Michael Olson said at a recent City Council meeting.
“We have found a number of errors, inconsistencies that are in those records,” he said.
All of which have been resolved, Olson said.
The task is expansive, encompassing thousands of plots and slowed by spotty record keeping practices from the 1950s and 1960s, a fire in the 1920s which damaged or destroyed some records and a complete lack of records from the year 1888.
The Kirkland Cemetery is one of five on the Eastside.
Dunlap said only around 50 cemeteries state-wide are owned by municipalities, and many of them have historic value.
And the history of the Kirkland Cemetery has deep roots.
The land was set aside in original city plans as a cemetery and was operated by private owners until the business crumbled in 1910. The city took control of road maintenance in 1909 but the grounds were maintained by individual plot owners.
Throughout the early 20th century, there were community clean-up days before Memorial Day and the local American Legion decorated graves of veterans.
This community involvement took a hit in the 1930s and never recovered. By 1970, the city had taken over primary maintenance responsibilities and had created a dedicated fund to care for the grounds.
The next steps for the city, Olson said, are to correct and review records to correctly identify any sold or unoccupied plots and recommendations for further action will be presented to the City Council this fall.