Friday, January 14, 2011

Cemetery Dos and Dont's

I know it's still winter and, as of yesterday, 49 of the 50 states had snow, but warmer weather will be coming and cemetery trips are in the planning!  Folks will be headed to the cemeteries to clean the cemeteries, research their ancestors and photograph/do rubbings of headstones. Pay special attention to the section about enhancing the carvings on the stones. All those tricks we have been told - shaving cream, baby powder, chalk - should not be used as it can help to destroy the stone.

These tips were found on the Association for Gravestone Studies -

Happy researching!


Please Do ~

  • Check (with cemetery superintendent, cemetery commissioners, town clerk, historical society, whoever is in charge) to see if rubbing is allowed in the cemetery. 
  • Get permission and/or a permit as required. 
  • Rub only solid stones in good condition. Check for any cracks, evidence of previous breaks and adhesive repairs, defoliating stone with air pockets behind the face of the stone that will collapse under pressure of rubbing, etc 
  • Become educated; learn how to rub responsibly. 
  • Use a soft brush and plain water to do any necessary stone cleaning. 
  • Make certain that your paper covers the entire face of the stone; secure with masking tape. 
  • Use the correct combination of paper and waxes or inks; avoid magic marker-type pens or other permanent color materials. 
  • Test paper and color before working on stone to be certain that no color bleeds through. 
  • Rub gently, carefully. 
  • Leave the stone in better condition than you found it. 
  • Take all trash with you; replace any grave site materials that you may have disturbed. 

Please Don't ~

  • Don't attempt to rub deteriorating marble or sandstone, or any unsound or weakened stone (for example, a stone that sounds hollow when gently tapped or a stone that is flaking, splitting, blistered, cracked, or unstable on its base). 
  • Don't use detergents, soaps, vinegar, bleach, or any other cleaning solutions on the stone, no matter how mild! 
  • Don't use shaving cream, chalk, graphite, dirt, or other concoctions in an attempt to read worn inscriptions. Using a large mirror to direct bright sunlight diagonally across the face of a gravemarker casts shadows in indentations and makes inscriptions more visible. 
  • Don't use stiff-bristled or wire brushes, putty knives, nail files, or any metal object to clean or to remove lichen from the stone; Soft natural bristled brushes, whisk brooms, or wooden sticks are usually OK if used gently and carefully 
  • Don't attempt to remove stubborn lichen. Soft lichen may be thoroughly soaked with plain water and then loosened with a gum eraser or a wooden popsicle stick. Be gentle. Stop if lichen does not come off easily. 
  • Don't use spray adhesives, scotch tape, or duct tape. Use masking tape. 
  • Don't use any rubbing method that you have not actually practiced under supervision. 
  • Don't leave masking tape, wastepaper, colors, etc., at the grave site 

Ardith J. (Howland) Elam

Ardith June (Howland) Elam
08 Aug 1925 - Bear Grove Township, Guthrie County, IA
12 Feb 2008 - Nashville, Davidson County, TN

My adoptive mother's headstone.  The gray stone was the original one my parents had placed with both their names inscribed.  Daddy's ashes were interred at Arlington National Cemetery on 13 Oct 2009.  Mother was never happy with her original stone as its the only one in the family row that was not cut from rose marble.  When my sister and I took her ashes to burial in May 2010, we corrected that.  

hopping around

as most genealogists, i've accumulated quite a few headstone/cemetery photographs.  what to do, what to do with them?

cemeteries have always held a special place for me.  there is so much that can be learned by them regardless if you have a connection to one or not.  it's easy to roam and let your mind wander.  what were these people like?  what did they do to survive?  were they in the military?  the questions are endless.

i grew up in far western kentucky, near the northern access to the land between the lakes.  back in the days of sunday afternoon drives, we would head down the trace and slowly make our way down the gravel roads that spread like spider webs.  being that this area was formed from flooding the area with the creation of both kentucky lake and lake barkley, the backroads were dotted with old homes and old cemeteries.  it was a wonderful way to spend a warm (or chilly) afternoon, visiting these people who had long been forgotten.

what i hope to do here is share my finds with you.  while most cemeteries are in kentucky and tennessee, i may surprise you with stones from other areas.

so, grab something to drink and come travel through time with me. who knows who we'll find.