Educational Resources (38)
This page contains a listing of known Cemetery Conservator individuals or organizations. We make no claim as to certifying their credentials. When contacting a conservator you will want to ask about training and best practices that they utilize.
Do you know of a conservator organization or individual that we should have listed? If so, please contact us.
This is a great resource for all the current best practices in cemetery and gravestone preservation
Operates within a 150 mile radius of Washington County Texas.
To give you a basic idea of what's involved in the process of starting a Cemetery Preservation Association, we have set up a "bare bones" guide that may be of some help to you in getting started. Thanks go out to the members of the Indiana Pioneer Cemetery Restoration Project mailing list for the valuable input they provided in putting this together.
Before doing anything else
- Check to make sure that there is not a pre existing group in your focus area. A local Historical Society if there is one would be a good source for this information.
- Find out if there are existing readings of the cemeteries in your focus area. If they do exist you might want to see about updating them.
Prior to holding a first meeting
- Promote the fact that you are interested in exploring the possibility of starting up a Cemetery Preservation Association for your focus area to determine if there are others in the area that share your concerns and interests. Make sure that you give them a easy way to contact you, such as both a phone number and a email address.
- Collect both information and the names, addresses and phone numbers of people who want to be directly involved in organizing a cemetery preservation association.
- Once you have a core group (say 3 to 6 people) that have expressed a desire and a willingness to get involved , you can schedule a private meeting with them to discuss the most pressing issues that could be solved through a cemetery preservation association and how each of them wanted be involved in the organizing committee. At this stage, it is very important that this becomes a group project, rather than just your project.
- The organizing committee needs to set the date of the first public local association meeting, decide on a location, decide how to promote attendance, choose the issues to discuss and lead the discussion as to why a cemetery preservation association is needed.
- Start to develop a plan or organization, thinking about issues such as incorporation and such.
- For a location, try to choose a free public location such as a local library meeting room.
- You cannot do too much to promote this first meeting. Do everything that you can think of to get the word out to those that might share your interests.
Your First Meeting
- At the first meeting, it is important to collect the names and addresses of those attending.
- Have a pre printed interests survey to pass out to the people in attendance that is short and can be completed and returned before they leave.
- Make sure that someone is assigned to record the minutes of the meeting.
- Once you have had at least one more meeting, and everyone is in agreement that you need a cemetery preservation association, it is time to get organized. You need to establish bylaws, elect officers, set up committees, and establish an action plan.
- You may find that it is to your advantage to establish yourselves as a non profit corporation. While this is a simple process, the law on how to go about this process varies from state to state so you should check with your local state for the correct information.
- You also may want to file to establish your association as a 501c3 federal non profit corporation.
- If you are going to be dealing with money, you need to set up a bookkeeping system. You should also apply for a business name to protect the identity of your cemetery preservation association. In order to open a bank account, you will need to have a Tax I.D. Number.
- If you want to be eligible for certain grants and to receive a special bulk mailing rate, you may want to apply for tax exempt status.
- As you work through the process, you will want to become familiar with the resources, including local and regional as well as the various online resources
- Make plans to promote the association. One good place to start is by registering your Association with the Saving Graves Association Registry.
- Plan on holding regular monthly meetings (general consensus as to a mutually agreeable date).
- Try to hold short meetings (about a hour) in which you run down what projects you are currently involved in, what in the works, legislation, etc. and then review what we know about the cemeteries in your focus area.
- One of the first projects that you should undertake as a group is to IDENTIFY the cemeteries in your specific area. Until you catalog what you KNOW, you won't know where to start trying to learn new information. One problem here that you will want to be aware of is that in many cases cemeteries are known by multiple names. One person will talk to you about the "Smith" Cemetery and another will talk about the "Jones" Cemetery. In the end, you finally figure out that they are talking about the same piece of property! This can be accomplished by starting with the USGS topographical maps for all the quads in in your county, or region. You will want to have them laminated and possibly mounted on a backing board. Because of the tremendous detail on the USGS maps, you can usually pinpoint a cemetery's location with a high degree of accuracy. Not all of the cemeteries in your focus area will be found on the USGS map. The rest can be added with Sharpie type marker. Because the maps were laminated prior to mounting, you can take a Q-tip and some alcohol and change any "mistakes".
- Create a website. This alone can take up the majority of the time that you devote to the association.
- Plan cemetery clean-up dates. When one of the group gets involved in a cemetery clean-up, they can call on the others in the group for labor, assistance and advice. Try to make use of community volunteer groups for help when possible.
Many people today will tell you that the use of sidewalk chalk is a perfectly acceptable material to rub on gravestones in order to bring out the carving on hard to read stones. You may find upon closer inspection that they are advocating it's use on a stone that it's entire face has been covered with newsprint, pellion or some other such rubbing surface. They are not suggesting or recommending the introduction of the chalk directly to the surface of the stone.
However some will in fact not only recommend this, but highly encourage it. It this an acceptable method of highlighting the carving on the stone? Saving Graves researched the question and put it to experts to find out if it should be viewed as an acceptable alternative method.
According to the Crayola website, Molded chalk, such as Crayola Colored chalk, is a softer chalk made of plaster of Paris, which is defined as quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine, white or gray powder, Calcium Sulfate Hemihydrate (CaSO 4 ½H 2 O), which hardens when moistened and allowed to dry. According to one manufacturer, Calcium Sulfate Hemihydrate has great applications in the manufacture of stucco, tablets for ceilings, division panels, boards and sanitary porcelain. In fact, it is most commonly called stucco but not the same material as used on the outside of buildings. A prime example of it's primary use would be drywall sheeting.
gypsum materials expand during setting, primarily because the dihydrate crystals push against each other as they form gypsum materials expand during setting, primarily because the dihydrate crystals push against each other as they form gypsum materials expand during setting, primarily because the dihydrate crystals push against each other as they form gypsum materials expand during setting, primarily because the dihydrate crystals push against each other as they form gypsum materials expand during setting, primarily because the dihydrate crystals push against each other as they form gypsum materials expand during setting, primarily because the dihydrate crystals push against each other as they form gypsum materials expand during setting, primarily because the dihydrate crystals push against each other as they form.
Gypsum as a rule has a tendency to expand as it sets. Therefore if the material is left on the surface of the stone it is quite possible that particles could work its way into the stone and set causing the potential of damage to the stone in several forms up to and including causing the stone to break.
If it is introduced into the stone by way of moisture, as that liquid evaporates the gypsum will increase by double in strength and hardness. In addition if a gypsum based element such as chalk is left exposed to open air, once liquid is added to it, the setting time is greatly shortened.
While sidewalk chalk is somewhat softer than regular chalk we still do not recommend it's use. In a test conducted by Saving Graves it was proven that it regular chalk will actually scratch a typical chalkboard. While being overall softer in nature, the hardness of sidewalk chalk varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some of the lesser or off brands that we tested were found to be as hard as regular chalk.
To get an informed opinion on the use of sidewalk chalk as a gravestone rubbing took, we contacted Binney & Smith, the parent company of Crayola located in Easton, Pennsylvania. We ask them if they would as a manufacturer of sidewalk chalk recommend it's use for gravestone rubbings. Saving Graves received the following response from Crayola concerning the use of sidewalk chalk:
"Crayola sidewalk chalk contains plaster of paris which has a gritty texture. Plaster of paris is not considered to be biodegradable, nor are most of the pigments contained in Crayola sidewalk chalk. Also, product packaging warns of colorants that may stain. This could be a good factor depending on the exact nature of what you are trying to do. While packaging does warn of colorants that may stain, chalk used outside generally washes away because of extreme weather conditions and excessive rain. Again, this could vary depending on the surface it is applied to."
- ad patres - "To the fathers", dead or gone away.
- anno aetatis suae (A.A.S.) - In the year of her/his age
- anno Domini (A.D.) - In the year of our Lord
- annos vixit (a.v.) - He/she lived [so many years]
- beatae memoriae (B.M.) - Of blessed memory
- Dei gratia - By the grace of God
- Dei gratias - Thanks be to God
- Deo, Optimo, Maximo (D.O.M.) - To God, the Best, the Greatest (motto of the Benedictine order)
- Domino, Optimo, Maximo (D.O.M.) - The Lord, the Best, the Greatest.(alternate motto)
- Gloria in Excelsis Deo - Glory be to God, the Most High
- hic iacet or hic jacet (H.I.) - Here lies (Ancient Latin has no letter "J": the letter was added later)
- hic iacet sepultus (H.I.S.) - Here lies buried
- hic sepultus (H.S.) - Here is buried
- Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum (I.N.R.I.) - Jesus Christ, King of the Jews
- in hoc salus (I.H.S.) - There is safety in this.
- in hoc signo spes mea (I.H.S.) - In this sign (the cross of Christ) is my hope
- in hoc signos vinces (I.H.S.) - By this sign you will conquer.
- laus Deo - Praise be to God
- memento mori - "Remember you must die".
- obiit (ob.) - He/she died
- requiescat in pace (R.I.P.) - May he/she rest in peace
- requiescant in pace (R.I.P.) - May they rest in peace
- requiescit in pace (R.I.P.) - He/she rest in peace
- Verbi Dei Minister (V.D.M.) - Minister of the Word of God
These are a few of the many motifs that are found on gravestones along with some of the more commonly held interpretations of their symbolism.
- Acorn - As the seed of the oak, the acorn is a symbol of potential. In Norse and Celtic culture, acorns symbolized life, fertility and immortality. Druids ate acorns, believing them to have prophetic qualities, and acorns were sacred to the god Thor whose Tree of Life was the oak. "Acorns and oak leaves form one of the circular 'hex' signs used by the Amish and Mennonite communities of southern Pennsylvania, the various signs believed to bestow favors such as protection or natural abundance"
- Anchor - Commonly used in the 18th and 19th centuries to represent hope or the deceased's seafaring profession. Also used, often wrapped in vines, to represent firm Christian faith.
- Angel, Flying - Rebirth or Resurrection
- Angel, Trumpeting - Resurrection
- Angel, Weeping - Grief and Mourning
- Ankh The original meaning of this ancient Egyptian symbol is not known. One possible theory suggests that it combines the male and female symbols of Osiris (the cross) and Isis (the oval) and therefore signifies the union of heaven and earth. It is usually portrayed in ancient Egyptian art in the hands of a diety. As a hieroglyph, it likely encompassed a range of meanings depending on its associated hieroglyphs but all of these expressions centered around the concept of life or life-force. Over time, the ankh certainly came to symbolize life and immortality, the universe, power and life-giving air and water. "Its key like shape also encouraged the belief that it could unlock the gates of death". The Coptic Christians used it as a symbol of life after death. The ankh has been used in magic and today it usually symbolizes peace and truth
- Arches - Victory in Death
- Arrows - Mortality
- Bats Commonly used in 18th century New England to represent the underworld.
- Bird - Eternal life
- Bird, Flying - Resurrection
- Books - A pair of Holy Books on Mormon (LDS) headstones indicates the Bible and Book of Mormon
- Books -Three Holy Books on Mormon headstones indicates the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants -- all of which are scripture to the LDS Church.
- Bouquets - Condolences, grief, sorrow
- Bridge - Since antiquity, bridges have symbolized linking; between the earthly and heavenly realms, between the physical and the spiritual, or between life and death. In modern psychoanalytic terms, bridges symbolize the transition from one state of being to another and the opportunity for change. The bridge's near side represents the past, its opposite side the future, and water flowing underneath, the chaos of the unconscious mind.
- Broken Column - Loss of Head of Family
- Broken Ring - Family Circle Severed
- Buds - Morning of Life or Renewal of Life
- Bugles - Resurrection and the Military
- Bunch of Grapes In Egyptian art it symbolizes the heart, because of the similarity of shape, color and blood-like juice of the grape. Since the heart is vital to life, it therefore symbolizes life itself.
- Butterfly - Based on its evolution from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, it represents the soul, transformation and rebirth, the creation of life from apparent death. To the Chinese, the butterfly symbolizes immortality. The Japanese view it as a symbol of fickleness because of its flighty behavior, although a pair of butterflies represents marital happiness and a white butterfly signifies the spirit of the dead. In Christianity, the butterfly is a symbol of resurrection but is sometimes viewed also as symbolic of transience because of its short lifespan, and of vanity.
- Candle - In Christianity, candles represent the divine light of Christ and faith. In Catholic funeral rites, candles signify the light of heaven. When lit by worshippers and placed before shrines, candles signify the souls of the departed or a request for illumination by prayer. When on opposite sides of a cross on an altar, the two candles represent the dual nature of Christ, human and divine. Many religions and cultures use the burning candle as a symbol of light, life, spirituality, truth and eternal life.
- Candle being Snuffed - Time, mortality
- Cherub - Angelic
- Clock/Watch - Represents the transitory nature of human existence. In psychoanalysis it signifies human emotions. It also can represent new beginnings and opportunities.
- Coat of Arms - High social status and family lineage.
- Coffins - Often carved on 17th and 18th century New England tombstones to signify mortality.
- Corn - Ripe Old Age
- Coffin - Mortality
- Cross - Emblem of faith, there are many different types of crosses. The crucifix, a Christian symbol, is a Latin cross with an image of Christ nailed to it and depicts the sacrifice Jesus made for human salvation. The shepherd's cross has a crooked apex and represents both the Christian faith and Jesus' role in guiding people through life and saving lost souls. The Celtic cross was prevalent in Ireland and it looks like a cross with its arms surrounded by a circle. this cross signifies the Christian faith, the circle the power of the sun and eternity, and together they represent the unity of heaven and earth. In pagan times, this cross symbolized fertility and life. A cross whose vertical arm ends in a point is called a crossy fitch. Often used in heraldry, it looks like a cross and sword combined, and signifies one's unshakeable faith in Christianity and willingness to defend it.
- Cross, Celtic - In pagan times, this cross, with its axis enclosed by a circle, was a symbol of fertility and life, the cross representing male potency and the circle, female power. Prevalent in Ireland, it is now primarily a Christian symbol signifying the unity of heaven and earth.
- Crossed Swords - High-ranking military person
- Crown - Commonly used on 18th century New England headstones to represent the crown of righteousness.
- Crucifix - Salvation. This Latin cross with the image of Christ nailed to it is a Christian symbol which shows the sacrifice Jesus made for human's salvation.
- Darts - Death, mortality. Sometimes seen on 17th and 18th century New England tombstones.
- Dog - Loyalty, Vigilance, Courage. As a symbol of faithfulness, dogs often appear at the feet of women on medieval tomb engravings. In Christianity, the dog guards and guides the flock, and so becomes an allegory of the priest. The dog is also a companion of the dead on their crossing. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks believed it followed its master into the afterlife. Many cultures believed that dogs were mediators with the realm of the dead: the Egyptian god Anubis who oversees embalming and weighs the heart of the dead is jackal-headed, Cerburus the guardian of the entrance to the Greek underworld is a three-headed dog with a serpent's tail, the dog Garmr guards the Norse underworld. The Celts and Greeks believed dogs possessed healing powers. In some African cultures, the dog is the father of civilization and the bringer of fire. In the eleventh sign of the Chinese zodiac, the dog symbolizes idealism. In Chinese tradition, the dog can signify both catastrophe and protection. Among Jews and Moslems, the dog possesses negative qualities. It is unclean and, when black, signifies the Devil.
- Door - Passage from one state to another. In Christianity, the door signifies salvation through Christ who said "I am the door." In dream interpretation, a closed door represents a hidden mystery or barrier, an open door liberation or invitation to a new challenge, an inward opening door the need for self-exploration, and an outward opening door represents accessibility to others.
- Dove - Holy Spirit, Soul Reaching Peace, Spirituality. In Slavic culture, at death the soul turns into a dove. In Visigothic and Romanesque art, it represents souls. In Hinduism, the dove represents the spirit. This bird was sacred to Zeus, to Athena as a symbol of the renewal of life, and to Aphrodite as a symbol of love. To the ancient Egyptians, it signified innocence, and in Islam the dove is the protector of Mohammad. In Christianity, the Holy Ghost of the Trinity is often portrayed as a dove. In China it represents longevity and orderliness while in Japan the dove is associated with the war god Hachiman. In Jewish history the dove was sometimes sacrificed for a mother's purification after childbirth. The dove is sometimes an emblem of Israel.
- Dove and Olive Branch - Peace. This symbol stems from Judeo-Christian culture and the biblical story of Noah and the great flood. When the dove returned to the ark with an olive branch from the Mount of Olives in its beak, it was a sign of God's forgiveness. It is now a common secular symbol.
- Dragon - Dramatically different interpretation between Eastern and Western cultures. In the Orient, the dragon protects humans from evil spirits and represents joy, health and fertility. But in Western cultures, the dragon possesses the negative traits of the snake, destruction, danger, depravity, and loss of innocence. In Jewish tradition, mythical beasts like the dragon are messianic creatures.
- Drapes - Mourning or Mortality
- Eagle - Height, The Spiritual, Courage, Victory, Power. With its speedy and high flight, the eagle is an extensively used symbol throughout many time periods and cultures. With the details varying, a common thread in most eagle symbolism is dominating and destroying baser forces, or the victory of higher powers. In Oriental art, it is often shown fighting. In Christian tradition, it carries a serpent in its beak to represent Christ's victory over Satan. In pre-Columbian America it represented the struggle between the spiritual/celestial and the lower world. On the banner of the Roman legion, it represented the victorious Roman Empire. As the king of the birds, it came to symbolize royalty. In many nations, such as the U.S., the eagle is the symbol of sovereignty and nationhood. The eagle also is commonly a messenger. In Christianity and some Native American traditions, the eagle is a messenger between god and man. Also a messenger in Vedic tradition. Often associated with the sun and the day, luminous, positive and active as opposed to the owl, the bird of darkness, death, and night. In ancient Syria, where the eagle symbolized sun worship, it assisted souls to immortality. In Native American cultures, the eagle's feathers symbolized the sun's rays, therefore the Great Spirit. This bird is often associated with thunder and fire.
- Eye of God - Judeo-Christian symbol that includes an eye with a tent below it and a three-link chain underneath. Often shown in a triangle, the eye signifies God, the all-seeing, at the center of the Trinity. The tent is the house of God, its flaps open to show inner truth. The chain represents both the Trinity and the link that binds the faithful to God.
- Father Time - Mortality
- Flowers - Condolences, grief, sorrow
- Flower, Severed Stem - Shortened life
- Flying Birds - Flight of the Soul
- Fruit - Various fruits possess their own symbolic meaning but fruit in general signifies abundance. Also, since it contains seeds, it represents life, potential, immortality.
- Garlands - Victory in death
- Gateway - Carries much of the same symbolism as the door but the destination is less personal. It represents entrance to greater areas, the mystical, heaven or hell, spiritual palace. A series of gateways can represent the stages of enlightenment. In dream interpretation, the gateway invites self-exploration. It is a symbol of initiation, passing through the gateway into a new state of being.
- Gourds - In 17th and 18th century New England, the birth and death of earthly matters.
- Grapes and Grapevines - Grapes signify sacrifice, since they are used in the making of wine, which, in Christianity represents Christ's blood and his sacrifice. They can also connote life and immortality. From the Old Testament, among the Jews, the grapevine signifies peace and abundance.
- Hammer - This tool, used in building and shaping, represents the power of creation.
- Hand - This is a very expressive symbol that takes on different meanings depending on its positioning in relation to the body and arrangement of the fingers. The raised hand symbolizes voice and song, placed on the chest it represents the wisdom of the sage, on the neck it depicts sacrifice, covering the eyes it signifies clairvoyance at the moment of death. Two hands joined typically signify union. A common hand placement on Jewish tombstones is the two open hands, thumbs touching, with index and middle finger spread away from the ring and pinkie fingers. This gesture, raised above the head, is used by priests to bring God's glory through the hands' openings and to the congregation. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, pre-Columbian America and as an amulet in Islamic cultures, the open hand represents a human task and magnetic force. The hand, with its five fingers, takes on the meaning of the number five, i.e., love, health and humanity.
- Hand of God Chopping - Sudden Death
- Hand with Finger Pointing - Gone Home, Look to God, Direction. The pointing finger represents direction, whether physical, spiritual or psychological.
- Handshakes - Carry a variety of meanings including, greeting, goodbye, friendship, solidarity, unity and agreement, and the doubling of power achieved through partnership. The right hand is the life-force or hand of power. An eye associated with a hand symbolizes clairvoyant action.
- Harp - Harmony with the universe and ascent to higher things, a bridge between heaven and earth. In Judaism, the harp is a symbol of David, conqueror of Goliath and king of Israel. David's harp playing relieved King Saul's depression and when he became king, the midnight wind playing on a harp that overhung his bed called him to study the Torah.
- Hearts - Soul in Bliss or Love of Christ
- Hooped Snake - In 18th and 19th century New England, this symbol meant eternity.
- Horns - The Resurrection
- Hourglass - Mortality. The swiftness of time. Because it must be turned upside down for the sand to run out, it also represents the cycle of life and death, and heaven and earth. In Christianity, it personifies temperance.
- Hourglass with Wings of Time - Time Flying; Short Life
- Imps - Mortality
- Iris - Light and Hope. With its pointed leaves, it's often called the sword Lilly and is associated with the sorrow of the Virgin Mary. To the Chinese, this flower represents affection, grace and beauty.
- Ivy - Immortality, Friendship, Faithfulness. Because it is an evergreen that clings while climbing, it signifies the need for protection. Since it grows quickly, it also symbolizes regeneration, sensuality and revelry. The Greco-Roman god Dionysus, or Bacchus, had an ivy cup and wore a crown of ivy leaves.
- Key - Mystery, Opening and Closing, Solution to a Problem. Its dual symbolism can mean liberation and the ability to unlock secrets, or incarceration. It can represent the threshold of the unconscious or a task to be performed and the means of carrying it out. In Catholicism, the key is a papal emblem, the key to the gates of heaven. In Greek mythology, Hecate holds the key to hell. In Judaism the key of God controls birth and death. In Japan the key represents happiness. A dove and a key symbolize the spirit opening the gates of heaven. The Roman god Janus, keeper of the doorway, looking both forward and backward, is associated with two keys that are sometimes placed over a heart. Especially in ceremonies for the dead, ancient Egyptian gods are sometimes depicted holding the ankh from the top as if it were a key, possibly the key that opens immortality.
- Labarum - This symbol is also known as the Monogram of Christ, Constantine's Cross, the Chrismon, the Christogram and the Chi-Rho. Since the Roman emperor Constantine I used this symbol on his shield, overcame his enemy in battle, and consequently converted to Christianity, the labarum has been a symbol of Christianity. In pre-Christian Greece it signified a good omen. It also represented the Chaldean sky god.
- Lamb - Purity, Innocence, Gentleness, Sacrifice. In Christianity it represents the sacrificial crucifixion of Christ for the sins of the world.
- Laurel Leaves/Wreath - Victory. The laurel wreath was first worn by the ancient Romans in parades after triumph in battle where it was viewed as a prize and a sign of divine blessing. With the Pythian Games in ancient Greece, the laurel wreath became an emblem of victory. The laurel is an evergreen thought to have purifying powers that could result in immortality. The laurel wreath is often still used as a mark of distinction for those who have excelled in their pursuits.
- Lily or Lily of Valley - Light, Purity, Perfection, Mercy and Majesty. In Greco-Roman mythology this flower was sacred to Hera and Artemis. In Byzantium and early France, it was a royal emblem (the fleur-de-lys is sometimes considered a stylized Lilly). Primarily the Lilly has Christian associations, usually attached to the Virgin Mary where it signifies chastity. When Christ is shown as the judge of the world with a Lilly in his mouth, the flower represents mercy. a Lilly and a sword signify guilt and innocence.
- Lion - Valor, Strength, Courage, Pride, Wisdom, Protection, Majesty, an ancient symbol of the sun.
- Lotus - Purity, Resurrection, Evolution, Potential. Commonly used in ancient Egypt and in Hinduism, the flower is sacred in Buddhism. "It symbolizes the creation of life from the slime of the primordial waters. The closed lotus represents potential. Depending on the number of petals, the lotus' symbolism changes, shaped by the symbolism of the number. With eight petals, it represents cosmic harmony, with 1,000 petals it means spiritual revelation. The lotus is the emblem of India and Egypt.
- Masonic Compass and Set-square - Freemasons combine religious and construction and architectural forms in their symbols. Viewing God as the architect and builder of the universe, Freemasonry intends to build the temple of humanity through self-improvement with stone-masonry work. The compass, used in geometric calculations, symbolizes creation and the spirit. The set-square draws perfect right angles, so represents uprightness and lawfulness. The compass and the square measure things, so they symbolize judgement. They also represent geometry, and the union of the sky (the compass's circle) and the earth (the square). The letter "G" in this symbol represents God, geometry and geomancy. Compasses and a mason's square also were the emblems of the Chinese emperor Fu Hsi.
- Menorah - Jewish symbol of divine wisdom. The seven branches of the candle represent the seven days of creation; the sun, moon and planets; the seven heavens; and the seven stars of Ursa Major.
- Morning Glory - Beginning of Life
- Oak Leaves & Acorn - Maturity, Ripe Old Age
- Open Book / Bible - Deceased Teacher, Minister, etc.
- Palm Tree/Branch - The palm has a variety of sacred and secular associations. In the Kabbalah, it symbolizes the righteous man and was an emblem of Judea after the Exodus. One of the four plants paraded on the Sukkot to celebrate God's bounty, it represents the Jew who studies the Torah but does not obey the commandments. Other interpretations include the spine that bends before God, and God. In Christianity, it signifies righteousness, resurrection, and martyrdom based on Christ's entry into Jerusalem where palm branches were laid in his path. In the Middle Ages, a palm leaf was a badge of pilgrimage to the Holy Land and people wearing it were called 'palmers.' Because of its height and radiating leaves, it was an early fertility and sun symbol. The Babylonians considered it a divine tree because of its association with the sun. In many early Middle Eastern civilizations the palm was a Tree of Life; the Phoenician god Baal-Tamar was the lord of the palm and the palm was the emblem of the goddesses Astarte and Ishtar. In ancient Rome, victors were presented with palm branches and the palm took on victory as its meaning in ancient Rome, Egypt and Greece. The palm has also signified fame and peace. In contemporary, secular culture it represents tropical delights
- Picks - Mortality. Commonly used in 17th and 18th century New England.
- Pine Cone - Immortality and Fertility The ancient Greeks and Assyrians viewed the pine cone "as a symbol of masculinity because of its phallic shape. It formed the apex of the thyrsus staff, which represented both fertility and immortality". As the emblem of Artemis, it represented feminine purity. It was also the emblem of the Roman goddess Venus (Aphrodite). In Christianity, the pine cone forms the crown of the Tree of Life. Because of its swirling form, it is associated with "dynamic generative and cosmic power."
- Poppy - Sleep
- Portals - Passageway to eternal journey
- Pyramid - Symbol of ancient and modern Egypt, it represents the power of the kings and creation. Among the ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Mayans and Mesopotamians, pyramids represented the cosmic mountain. In esoteric thought, it represents the world axis and enlightenment. The pyramid is a synthesis of different forms: the base is a square representing earth, the apex is the beginning and finishing point of all things, and the sloping, triangle sides that link the apex to its base represent fire, divine revelation and the threefold principle of creation, thereby symbolizing all of creation.
- Rising Sun - Resurrection, Immortality.
- Rope - Eternity, Binding and Connection. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, a knotted cord signifies a man's name, a symbol of an individual's existence. In Vedic teaching, the silver cord "expresses the sacred, inner path which binds the outer consciousness of man (his intellect) with his spiritual essence"
- Rosebud - Morning of Life or Renewal of Life
- Roses - Brevity of earthly existence, Completion, Achievement, Perfection. Meanings vary depending on the color, shape and number of petals. For example, the blue rose symbolizes the impossible, the golden rose the pinnacle of achievement, an eight petal rose regeneration.
- Scales - Justice, Balance. Originating in Chaldea as the mystic symbol of justice, it represents the equivalence of guilt and punishment. From the zodiacal archetype of Libra it represents immanent justice, the idea that guilt automatically unleashes the forces that bring self-destruction and punishment.
- Scarab - An ancient Egyptian emblem symbolizing the renewal of life. When shown with falcon's wings it represents transcendence and protection.
- Shattered Urn Someone Old
- Sheaf of Wheat - Ripe for Harvest, Divine Harvest, Time
- Shell - The Human Journey Through Life, Birth, Life, Resurrection, Love, Good Luck. The shell's hard casing protects life, the pearl inside, and its aquatic nature associates it with the feminine, lunar, and virginity. Both the Hindu goddess Lakshmi and the Greco-Roman goddess Aphrodite were carried ashore on a scallop shell. In medieval Christianity the scallop shell was the emblem of St. James, the patron of pilgrims, so the shell came to symbolize a pilgrimage. The scallop shell is also associated with the guardian angel Raphael, and the Virgin Mary. In later Christianity, it symbolized resurrection and baptism. In Buddhism and Hinduism the conch shell's call awakens the faithful from ignorance. The conch also is a sign of victory over samsara, or suffering existence, in Buddhism. In Chinese Buddhism, the conch shell can signify a prosperous journey, and in Islam it represents the hearing of the divine word.
- Ships - Hope or Seafaring profession
- Shovels - Mortality
- Skeleton - The personification of death.
- Skull - Mortality. Because it is what survives of the living once the body is destroyed, it is also used to represent life and thought, especially in alchemy, where it is the receptacle used in transmutation processes. In Christianity, a skull wearing a crown of thorns means eternal damnation.
- Stag - Life, Wisdom, Regeneration and Growth, Virility. Because its antlers resemble branches, the stag has been associated with the Tree of Life and because of the way it renews its antlers, it's been used as a symbol of regeneration. In the West during the Middle Ages, the stag was often shown with a crucifix between its horns where, in Christianity, it represents purity and solitude and was the enemy of Satan, the serpent. The Celts believed the stag led souls through the darkness. The stag also was associated with warriors and hunting in Celtic culture and in Greco-Roman mythology where it was an animal sacred to Artemis. In Buddhism, the golden stag represents knowledge. The Chinese regard it as a symbol of virility and happiness.
- Star The Spirit, Divine Presence, Enlightenment, Wisdom, Human Aspiration. Represents light struggling against darkness. The Babylonian goddess Ishtar's emblem was an eight-pointed star and females such as Astarte, Isis, and the Virgin Mary are often pictured with a crown of stars. Stars are sometimes believed to be the souls of the dead with comets being seen as foretellers of doom and a sign of the anger of the sun god. Stars often take on additional meaning depending on their color, shape, number of points and arrangement. The most common, the five pointed star, comes from Egyptian hieroglyphics where it meant "rising upwards toward the point of origin" and formed part of words such as "to bring up," "to educate," "the teacher".
- Star of David - Symbol of Judaism and the State of Israel. This star, comprised of an overlapping upright and an inverted triangle, is associated with David because he carried a hexagrammic shield against Goliath. The interlocking triangles represent the union of opposites. The Kabbalists believed this emblem had protective power and magical properties. It is also called the Creator's Star with each point representing the days of the week and the hexagram representing the Sabbath.
- Stars & Stripes Around Eagle - Eternal Vigilance, Liberty
- Steps - A common symbol used around the world, steps generally mean Ascension, Stages or Levels. The number of steps brings the meaning of numbers into the interpretation as does the symbolism of any objects that surround or are a part of the steps. In Romanesque art, steps represent the relationship between worlds. In many religions steps, or a ladder, are seen as the path to god. For alchemists of the Middle Ages, steps were associated with the transmutation process.
- Swallow Hope, Fertility, Renewal of Life, Resurrection Like most birds, it also represents light. In ancient Egypt, it symbolized motherhood. In ancient Greece and Rome, it was a bad omen to kill a swallow because it held the spirits of dead children. In Swedish legend, a swallow was present at Christ's crucifixion, where it called for consolation. In China, it represents daring, danger, and a good change in fortune and in Japan it can mean unfaithfulness and maternal care. In Islam, the swallow makes an annual pilgrimage to Mecca and so is revered. In African cultures it represents purity. These birds are often symbols of illumination and good luck.
- Thistles - Traditional Scottish symbol connoting remembrance.
- Tombs - Mortality
- Torch - Turned upside down, it represents death. Right side up, it symbolizes life and the regenerative power of fire. It has been used in initiation and fertility rites in many cultures and was the emblem, in Greek mythology, of Eros and Aphrodite, symbolizing the flame of love. In Christianity, the torch represents purification through God's illuminating the spirit, and Christ as the Light of the World. Associated with one of the seven deadly sins, it represents anger. The torch is also seen as an emblem of places of learning and signifies truth and intelligence.
- Tree Stump w/Ivy - Head of Family; Immortality
- Trees - Life
- Triangle - In the Christian tradition, the triangle represents Faith, Hope and Charity, and the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The symbolism of this shape is always associated with its three sides, signifying a variety of triads such as birth, life and death; heaven, earth and human; mind, body and soul; body, soul and spirit; and father, mother and child. In ancient Egypt, the triangle combined will, intelligence, and love to represent man's soul. The ancient Egyptians and the Mayans built stepped pyramids with temples at the top to represent the cosmic mountain. In magic and alchemy, the pyramid with its apex pointing upward represents fire or masculinity and when inverted, represents water or femininity. These two triangles combined signify the unity of the elements in alchemy and, in Judaism's Star of David they stand for the union of opposites. The pyramid can also represent aspiration, the struggle to climb to the top and achieve one's earthly ambition or heavenly ascent.
- Trumpeters - Heralds of the Resurrection
- Urn with Blaze - Undying Friendship
- Urn with Wreath or Crepe - Mourning
- Willows - Presented in a variety of styles, this symbol is of German origin and usually represents sorrow.
- Winged Effigies - Flight of the Soul
- Winged Sun Disk - This is an ancient Egyptian symbol which represents the journey of the sun. Ra was the creator of the world, ancestor of the pharaohs and god of the sun (symbolized by the solar disk) and skies (symbolized by the wings). The winged sun disk symbolizes the life-giving power of the sun and the spiritual attributes of the heavens.
- Wreaths - Victory in Death.
- Yew Leaves - Eternal Life
- Yin-Yang Circle - The symbol comes from Taoism and Confucianism and represents harmony and balance. It denotes the two existential and controlling forces of the universe, the yin, the negative and passive feminine power depicted in black and on the left side of the circle, and the yang, the positive and active masculine power depicted in white on the right side of the circle. Yin represents the soul, wetness, cold, darkness, the moon, the Earth and sustenance. Yang represents the spirit, light, heat, dryness, day, the sun, heaven, creation and dominance. The yin before the yang signifies primeval darkness before creation. The small circle of the opposite color contained within both the yin and the yang represents the seed of the other and therefore their interdependence. The sigmoid line dividing the yin and yang means dynamism and the two are contained within a circle of revolution and unity.
Below are abbreviations that are commonly found on gravestones, indicating membership within an organization. Next to the abbreviation is the full name of the organization and where possible a link to that organization's website.
- AAONMS - Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine
- AASR - Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite
- AF&AM - Ancient Free & Accepted Masons
- ALOH - American Legion of Honor
- AMD - Allied Masonic Degrees of USA
- AMOS - Ancient Mystic Order of Samaritans
- AMVETS - American Veterans
- AOF - Ancient Order Of Foresters
- AOFB - Angelic Order of Fairy Bells
- AOH -Ancient Order Of Hibernians
- AOKMC - Ancient Order Of Knights of Mystic Chain
- AOM - Ancient Order of Mysteries
- AOUW -Ancient Order Of United Workmen
- BARE - Benefit Association of Railway Employees
- BAY - Brotherhood of American Yeomen
- B of LF&E - Brotherhood of Local Firemen and Engineers
- BPOE - Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks
- BPOEW - Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World
- CBKA - Commandery Benevolent Knights Association
- CE - Christian Endeavor
- CG - California Grays
- CBKA - Commandery Benevolent Knights Association
- CCTAS - Crusaders- Catholic Total Abstinence Society
- CDA - Catholic Daughters of America
- CFUA - Croatian Fraternal Union of America
- CK of A - Catholic Knights of America
- COOF - Catholic Order of Foresters
- CSA - Czechoslovak Society of America
- CTAS - Catholic Total Abstinence Society
- CTAUOA - Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America
- DAR - Daughters of The American Revolution
- DOKK - Dramatic Order Knights of Khorassan
- DOP - Degree of Pocahontas
- DUV - Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War
- EBA - Emerald Beneficial Association
- F&AM - Free and Accepted Masons
- F of A - Foresters of America
- FAA - Free and Accepted Americans
- FHC - The Encampment
- FMC - Fraternal Mystic Circle
- FOAST - Fraternal order of Alaska State Troopers
- FOE - Fraternal Order of Eagles
- FOF - Fraternal Order of Firefighters
- FOO - Fraternal Order Orioles
- FOP - Fraternal Order of Police
- FRA - Fraternal Reserve Association
- GALSTPTR - German American Legion of St. Peter
- GAR - Grand Army of the Republic
- GUO of OF - Grand United Order of Odd Fellows
- IBBH - International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths & Helpers
- IFSC - International Firefighters Square Club
- IHSV - Order of the Red Cross of Constantine
- ILEOSC - International Law Enforcement Officers Square Club
- IOA - International order of Alhambra
- IOBA - Independent Order of Birth Abraham
- IODE - Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire
- IODE - Independent Order Daughters of the Empire
- IOF - Independent Order of Foresters
- IOGT - Independent Order of Good Templars
- IOHH - International Order of Hoo-Hoo
- IOI - Independent Order of Immaculates
- IOKP - Independent Order of Knights of Pythias
- IOOF - Independent Order of Odd Fellows
- IOSL - Independent Order of St. Luke
- IOR - Independent Order of Rebekahs
- IOR - Independent Order of Rechabites
- IORG - International Order of Rainbow Girls
- IORM - Improved Order of Redmen
- IOV - Independent Order of Vikings
- ISH - Independent Sons of Honor
- IUOM - Independent United Order of Mechanics
- JAOUW - Junior Order-Ancient Order of United Workmen
- JOUAM -Junior Order-Order of United American Mechanics
- KC , K of C - Knights of Columbus
- KFM, K of FM - Knights of Father Matthew
- KG, KSTG - Knights of St. George
- KGE - Knights of Golden Eagle
- KGL - Knight Grand Legion
- KHC - Knights of Holy Cross
- KM - Knights of Malta (Masonic) -OR- Knights Militant
- KMC - Knights of Mystic Chain
- KOTM - Knights of the Macabees of the World
- KPC - Knights of Peter Claver
- KP, K of P - Knights of Pythias
- KKK - Knights of Klu-Klux Klan
- KSC - Knights of St. Columbkille
- KSF - Knights of Sherwood Forest
- KSL - Knights of St. Lawrence
- KSTG - Knights of St. George
- KSTI - Knights of St. Ignatius
- KSTJ - Knights of St. Joseph
- KSTM - Knights of St. Martin
- KSTP - Knights of St. Paul -OR - Knights of St. Peter
- KSTT - Knights of St. Thomas
- KT - Knights of Tabor -OR- Knights Tempar (Masonic)
- KWM - Knights of Wise Men
- KWSN - Knights Who Say Ni
- K of L - Knights of Loyola
- K of H - Knights of Honor
- K of P - Knights of Pythias
- K of SJ - Knights of St. John
- K of STP - Knights of St. Patrick -OR- Knights of Richard Petty
- K of STW - Knights of St. Wencelas
- K of T - Knights of Tabor
- LAOH - Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians
- LAPM - Ladies Auxiliary Patriarchs Militant
- LAW - League of American Wheelmen
- LEA - Ladies Encampment Auxiliary
- LK of A - Loyal Knights of America
- LMLOA - The Loyal Mystic Legion of America
- LOBB - Loyal Order Beer Buffalo
- LOL or LOOL - Loyal Order Orange Lodge
- LOM - Legion of the Moose
- LOOM - Loyal Order of Moose
- MM - Modern Maccabees
- MOLLUS - Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States
- MOPH - Military Order of the Purple Heart
- MOS&B - Military Order of the Stars and Bars
- MOVPER - Mystic Order Veiled Prophets of the Enchanter Realm
- MRA - Royal Arcanum
- MWA - Modern Woodsmen of America
- NEOP - New England Order of Protection
- NIWA - National Indian War Veterans
- NOK - New Order of knights
- NS - National Sojourner
- NSCDA - National Society of the Colonial Dames of America
- NSGW - Native Sons of the Golden West
- NW - Neighbors of Woodcraft
- O of A - Order of Amaranth
- O of L - Order of Leibowitz
- OC - Order of Calanthe
- OD - Order of DeMolay
- ODHS - Order der Hermann's Sohns, Sisters of the Federation
- OES - Order of Eastern Star
- OGC - Order of the Golden Chain
- OGC - Order of the Golden Circle
- OGT - Order of Good Times
- OO - Order of Owls
- ORC - Order of the Red Cross
- ORM - Order of Red Men
- OS - Order of Sparta
- OSC - Order of Scottish Clans
- OSH - Order of the Sons of Herman (Texas)
- OSIA - Order of the Sons of Italy in America
- OSM - Order of the Secret Monitor
- OTK - Order of the True Kindred
- OUAM - Order of United American Mechanics
- OWSJ - Order of the White Shrine of Jerusalem
- PDQBAS - Royal order of the Knights of Whoople
- PH - Found on military graves, it means that this person received a Purple heart in Combat.
- PM - Patriarchs Militant (Independent Order of Odd Fellows)
- POSA - Patriotic Order of the Sons of America
- RIP - requiescat in pace, Latin for REST IN PEACE
- RK - Roman Knights
- RMBI - Royal Masonic Benevolent Instition
- RMIB - Royal Masonic Institution for Boys
- RNA - Royal Neighbors of America
- ROJ - Royal Order of Jesters
- ROS - Royal Order of Scotland
- RSM - Royal and Select Masters
- RSTV - Rite of St. Vaclara -OR - Rite of St. Vita
- MRA - Royal Arcanum
- RAM - Royal Arch Masons
- RO-AUN - Rosicruian Order
- SBCL - Saint Bonifazius Catholic Union
- SBL - Society B. Lafayette
- SCV - Sons of the Confederate Veterans
- SAR - Sisters of the American Revolution
- SAR - Sons of the American Revolution
- SNA-AUM - Shrine of North America
- SRIA - Societas Rosicruciani in Anglia
- SV - Sons of Veterans
- TCL - Tall Cedars of Lebanon
- TH - Temple of Honor-Independent Order of Odd Fellows
- UCV - United Confederate Veterans
- UDC - United Daughters of The Confederacy
- UFL - Union Fraternal League
- UORM - United Order of Red men
- UR - The Uniform Ranks designation.
- USWV - United Spanish War Veterans
- VFW - Veterans of Foreign Wars
- VMC - Royal Arcanum
- WOTM - Women of the Moose
- WOW - Woodmen of the World
Gravestones are a part of our history and heritage. Our forefathers likely thought of them as being something which would last forever. After all, what could be more permanent than stone itself? Unfortunately, this is not the case. The surface of stone weathers away over the years by various means. Rain, wind, frost, vegetation and chemical actions all take their toll on the surface of stone, no matter what kind of stone it is. The phrase, 'etched in stone,' is commonly used to denote permanence. But for those concerned with recording monument inscriptions, the fallacy of the phrase is evident. For stone is not permanent; and the inscriptions upon it even less so. Gravestone inscriptions are far from being a permanent record. Different types of stone weather differently. Some just lose their sharpness where the lettering has been inscribed, and others actually physically lose their surface, where a thin layer of stone literally peels way, and with it, the inscription. Some types of stone, particularly limestone and granite, suffer from chemical erosion. Rainwater is actually a dilute carbonic acid, and this acid can have a disastrous effect on limestone. Granite is made up of three minerals, quartz, mica and feldspar, and the feldspar decomposes slowly but surely in rainwater. Over time, it becomes harder and harder to read the inscriptions found on the older gravestones, and it becomes necessary to use an alternative method to assist in reading the stones There are many alternative methods (not including rubbings and the use of shaving cream ...which is not) recommended...and are addressed elsewhere) that can be used to enhance or bring out the lettering on old gravestones that have become worn over time. These include:
- Mirrors - By using a mirror to direct bright sunlight diagonally across the face of a grave stone, you can easily cast shadows in indentations which will makes inscriptions much more visible and easy to read. This method often brings out details that might otherwise be missed. A plastic full-length mirror works well. Ideally, the stone should not be taller than the mirror. If the stone is located in the shadows, you may be able to use two mirrors to help you reflect light. It might help to practice at home to determine the size of mirror that is needed and how to redirect the sunlight. But this is a safe way to get good photos without having to touch the stones. Note to photographers - If the sun is directly shining on the stone face, giving you too much glare, try using the mirror to throw light from the side and have someone block the direct sunlight.
- Regular Lighting - If you cannot wait until the sun moves into the correct position (at a right angle to the carved surface of the headstone), a flashlight or flood light will also work great., If working at night, please keep in mind that lights in a cemetery at night make people nervous and they tend to call the police (which, all things considered, is not a bad thing).
- Stick Your Head In A Bag Method - A variation on the regular lighting method, it is suggested that you bring a flashlight and a large paper ( not plastic) bag. Pull the bag over the stone, stick your head and the flashlight inside, and shine the light sideways on the inscription; you may be able to read an inscription you could not read before.
- Black Light Method - This one is a little more involved in that it requires that you bring some additional equipment and in some cases have a available power source. By using a 75 watt ( or higher) black light regular type or spotlight bulb in any lamp that casts light directly on the written message, the writing will stand out. Portable battery operated black light units can be found in most novelty or party shops, and as you get close to Halloween they can be found with ease in most department stores such as Wall Mart or Target. I found one in Atlanta at a greeting card / party supply chain store called Party City. Bulbs sell for about $3.00 and the battery operated units start out at around $8.00 and go up in price. Again, as with regular lighting, if working at night, please keep in mind that lights in a cemetery at night make people nervous and they tend to call the police (which, all things considered, is not a bad thing).
- Tube Lighting - use a viewing tube, (a 2ft length of plastic drain pipe), held against the stone to prevent light entering, and then tilt the end of the tube touching the stone slightly, so that a little light enters, and then view the inscription through the tube
- Aluminum Foil Mirror- This is a variation on the use of mirrors as discussed above. By taking everyday aluminum Foil (Reynolds Wrap) which can easily be found at any grocery store or most convince stores and covering it over a piece of cardboard or some other hard substance, you can create a inexpensive alternative to a mirror that is non breakable, works just as good as a mirror and more importantly will not damage the stone in any way. The person who first suggested this method told the story of once needing some extra light and asking at a restaurant for a piece and found a piece of cardboard in a dumpster. Overall this method may not be the best way to go, but in a pinch it's worth a try. This method can also be used to add extra lighting to a stone for photography.
- Aluminum Foil Rubbing - An alternative to traditional wax or crayon type rubbings is that of aluminum foil & a damp sponge. Place foil on marker, dull side up so the sun doesn't reflect back into your eyes Using the damp sponge press gently so as to not tear the foil around the carving or writing areas and instantly you have a 3-D impression of the marker that you can keep or ball it up and put it into your recycling bag. Also try reading the foil impression under different lighting situations. Sometimes it works better if the foil is placed on a tabletop under artificial light when trying to read it.
- Water - Just getting a stone wet can make the carvings stand out much more than when dry. It also adds to the enhancement if the sun light is at a good angle. Some stones don't photograph well, even when they can be read easily with the eye. Those stone really show well for photographs using the water method. The surface will dry much faster than the lettering. In most cases, the indented lettering will stay moist and dark which will enhance the image. In many cases, this will allow you to read the lettering fairly easily regardless of any fading that has occurred. We suggest that you carry several gallon jugs of water and a couple of large spray bottle to cemeteries.
- Dirt - Grab a clump of slightly damp soil, (not mud) and gently rub the stone with it. After a minute or two the inscription will become very readable. After reading the stone, take a soft bristle brush and lightly brush it off.
- Hand Rubbing - It is sometimes possible on a uniformly colored stone surface, to lightly brush the surface with the palm of your hand, which raises a light dust (often dead lichen), and leaves the recessed inscription as a dark color. It is often worth a try!
- Photography Negatives - By using either a digital camera and viewing the pictures in negative format, or scanning regular prints into your computer and viewing using the negative (or reverse) option can be a highly effective way of reading worn stones. It just takes a little more time and steps to the process.
Thanks to the wonderful members of the Cemetery-L Mailing list for providing many of these suggestions.
How to do Gravestone Rubbings
Please note this practice has been regulated or banned in some states and in many cemeteries (particularly in colonial graveyards) due to the damage it can cause to the stone. For example, please see Section 289:22 of the State of New Hampshire Revised Statutes. Because old gravestones are an important part of our national heritage, you should be as careful with them as you are when handling other ancient folk art treasures. Many cemeteries now ask for permits before you are allowed to do rubbings. Common courtesy tells us that we should first ask for permission from the cemetery or graveyard superintendent or sexton prior to doing rubbings or taking photographs. We strongly advise to check this information out in advance, if at all possible. How can we expect the general public to respect our cemeteries if we ourselves don't abide by the rules and regulations?
Without question, when it comes to recording inscriptions, one of the most demanding problems is when the stone has become so weathered over time that the lettering becomes almost impossible to read. Tombstone rubbings have been commonly used for many years as one of the primary methods for the preservation of a stone's inscription. The following information is designed to show how to do a tombstone rubbing safely, and when to use an alternative method of documentation.
- Soft-bristle brush
Metallic brushes are entirely too harsh, can cause damage to the stone, and they also leave particles on the surface of the stone that can rust. You should use the softest bristle brush possible.
- At least one large sponge
Used for among other things, soaking up excess water when washing a stone.
- Cleaning Water
You may also want to bring a small spray bottle of water for gently cleaning dirt and debris from the stone. The spray bottle, should contain only water and not detergent or chemicals of any kind that would damage and further erode the stone's material. You might want to use Photo Flo, which is made by Kodak and used in photo developing. Mix one cap full per gallon of water. Wash stone with solution, then rinse stone with clean water.
- Kneeling Pads
Can be found in most nurseries, garden supply stores or department stores such as Target.
- Towel or old rags
Used to kneel on or clean polished granite stones. Launder them first, but do NOT use fabric softener. The softener will affect their ability to absorb liquids as well as cutting down on the "magnetism" for dirt and dust.
- Hand cleaner
Bring along a sample size of antibacterial waterless hand cleaners or wipes.
- Masking or drafting tape
Keep in mind here that most, if not all tapes - duct, masking, strapping tape, etc. all leave adhesive behind. You want to try to find a way to attach the paper to the stone that will leave nothing behind. As an alternative, you may want to hook together several rubber bands to make a long rubber band that will go around the grave stone, using one at the top and one at the bottom of the stone to hold the paper in place.
- Scissors or retractable razor knife
To cut paper or trim tall grass around the base of a stone
- Hand-held grass clippers
For trimming grass and/or weeds close to the stones. Do NOT use weed whacker type trimmers as these can scar the stones. These are quite likely the single most destructive implement to ever be introduced into a cemetery, and there are hundreds of examples of the damage that these tools have sauced to stones by people that use them to clear away grass and weeds by base of the stone. For site clearing/cleaning, a pair of pruning shears or hedge clippers is also helpful for brush that is too thick to rip out or cut with grass clippers, but not thick enough to bother with a chain saw.
- Rubbing Surface - Paper
Most monument companies will supply you with a special blue paper. It contains wax in it and is designed for doing rubbings of gravestones. The important thing about this paper is not to let it get hot, as the wax will melt and then the paper will not make good rubbings. There are some who have expressed reservations regarding the use of this paper and advise against using it, saying that "it leaves the wax behind and thus creates a barrier for the natural transpiration and absorption of water. It will also melt and turn dark or "waxy" with age and ruin the natural color and patina of the stones". If you cannot find this paper, plain white paper, newsprint, butcher paper, rice paper will work.
- Rubbing Surface - Pellon
Pellon works well, never is brittle and you can even find it in colors in many cases. Pellon comes in a variety of stiffness. The thickest which is specifically made for heavy fabrics. The lightest, or thinnest, is made for lightweight fabrics and works best for rubbings. Look for plain with no iron-on dots on it. Once your rubbing is finished, and you have returned home, take out your iron, foil, wax paper, and ironing board. Set the Pellon on the ironing board with the crayon side up, put foil under the Pellon to protect the ironing board and wax paper (waxy side down) on top of the crayon. Iron on a low setting, just high enough to melt the crayon into the fabric. The end result is a very sturdy and frameable rubbing that could last many lifetimes.
- Rubbing Surface - Newsprint
Blank newsprint paper can be purchased at larger craft stores or art supply stores in large pads, or also can usually be purchased as roll ends from a local newspaper for a very modest price. Some printers will even give it away. They do however usually need the spools returned. One drawback with using newsprint is that it is extremely acidic. Because it's dry when you use it, it shouldn't hurt the stone or leave residue, however, the newsprint will disintegrate and turn yellow and brittle over time.
- Rubbing Surface - Pellon
Tissue paper transfers easily, however, it is very fragile. A interesting alternative that can be used is a very thin chamois or a thin fake leather feeling cloth.
- Rubbing Surface - Butcher Paper
Can be found in most Butcher shops or grocery store meat departments. If you wish to accommodate any size tombstone, you could take a (partial/whole) roll of butcher paper, tearing off what you need for each tombstone.
Tip - You may want to take your rubbing papers of choice, already cut to size, with you from home at the start of your trip, carrying them in a mailing tube.
- Transfer medium
These include rubbing wax, black crayon charcoal and similar products. With either charcoal or chalk, insure that a fixative is used. Be sure that your medium will in no way leave any residue on the stone. The Oregon Historic Cemeteries Alliance offers the following instructions on making your own rubbing crayons. Gather all the leftover crayons from the kids (all those little broken or remaining pieces) or go buy a new box--cheap ones may be best. Melt them in a can. Place the can in a pot with just a few inches of water and bring the water to a boil. Stay with the crayons until they are melted. Use an old muffin tin (big muffins--not the tiny ones) with a muffin paper (makes it easier to get out of the tin when finished) and pour the melted crayons into the tin. Let stand until crayons are completely solid again. The muffin paper will leave ridges in the sides of the crayon, but these will wear down quickly. By using this method, you can reuse the leftovers of these rubbing crayons, again and again. A carpenter's crayon can also be used, and while somewhat more expensive they will not melt in a hot car.
Fixative, such as Tuffilm Final Fixative made by Grumbacher, can be purchased at any crafts store. Try to use a matte finish if possible. Make sure it is NON-YELLOWING.
- Cardboard tube or art portfolio
Used for storing clean paper and finished prints.
- Pencil and Notepad
Used to record information about the stone or cemetery location.
The Memorabilia Corner of Norman, Oklahoma offers a number of a number of these supplies for sale over the internet as a part of their store website.
Gravestone Artwear offers a basic gravestone rubbing kit for sale.
In addition, you will want to also look at taking along the following safety items:
- Drinking water - Plan to bring at least several quarts of water with you for drinking , apart from the water you use for washing the stones.
- Gloves - Both work gloves and rubber gloves.
- Work Boots
- Long-sleeved shirt
- Insect repellant
- First Aid kit
- Snakebite kit
- Bee and wasp spray
- Cellular phone
- Safety goggles
- Antibacterial liquid soap and or waterless instant hand sanitizer
- Protective hand lotion
- IvyBlock = For poison ivy, oak and sumac.
A NOTE ABOUT SHAVING CREAM, FLOUR OR CHALK
A word of advice, DON'T use shaving cream , chalk, flour or anything else on tombstones!. These have many ingredients harmful to tombstones (like butane) and in some cases can be abrasive. There are a number of websites that promote this method, with one going so far as to assure that the shaving cream will not harm the stone. Please do not attempt this as you WILL be causing a great of damage to the stone and even by washing it after you are finished you will not remove all of the material that you have placed on the stone. More detailed information on why not to use shaving cream on a stone can be found here.
According to the Crayola website, Molded chalk, such as Crayola Colored chalk, is a softer chalk, made of plaster of Paris, which is defined as quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine, white powder, calcium sulfate hemihydrate, which hardens when moistened and allowed to dry. Sidewalk chalk is much harder than regular chalk; in fact, will actually scratch a typical chalkboard. Saving Graves received the following response from Crayola concerning the use of sidwalk chalk:
"Crayola sidewalk chalk contains plaster of paris which has a gritty texture. Plaster of paris is not considered to be biodegradable, nor are most of the pigments contained in Crayola sidewalk chalk. Also, product packaging warns of colorants that may stain. This could be a good factor depending on the exact nature of what you are trying to do. While packaging does warn of colorants that may stain, chalk used outside generally washes away because of extreme weather conditions and excessive rain. Again, this could vary depending on the surface it is applied to."
- Practice on a rock at home, or check with a local monuments store to see if you can practice on one of their tombstones, before going to the cemetery.
- As mentioned at the top of this page, before you start check with the cemetery or with the state or local Historical Society to learn if tombstone rubbings are permissible. This practice has been banned in some states and cemeteries due to the damage it can cause.
- In the case of cemeteries located on private property, remember that you are doing rubbings on someone else's property. It is ALWAYS advised to gain permission by attempting to speak with the property owner, and explain want you want to do, BEFORE you begin. We have put together a sample permission form for your use in attempting to gain permission, with instructions. If you do not get permission, please respect the wishes of the cemetery and ask if you can take a photograph to record the information and condition of the stone. If you find that a gravestone is severely damaged, please notify the property owner or supervisor of the cemetery.
AT THE CEMETERY
- Be sure that the tombstone that you have chosen is completely stable. If it is wobbly or the surface is crumbling, then DO NOT do a rubbing. Take a photograph instead. Lightly rap on the stone; if it has a "hollow" sound, DO NOT use this stone to make a rubbing because it is vulnerable to accidental damage.
- Before starting a stone rubbing, it may be necessary to first clean the stone. Our How To Clean A Gravestone page offers tips and advice on this process.
RUBBING THE STONE
- Make sure the stone is clean and completely dry. Tape will not adhere to a wet stone, and the dampness will make the paper fragile and liable to tear. Besides ruining any chance of a rubbing, this may cause you to accidentally damage the stone with your rubbing material.
- Cut a piece of your paper or other rubbing material to a size slightly larger than the stone. If possible, write any information on or about the stone, inscription, date, location, etc. on the back of the paper before doing the rubbing so you don't smear your rubbing. Or, carry a small notebook, write the information on a page, tear out and roll up with your rubbing.
- Tape the paper to the stone. Make sure that it is secure so that it won't slide as you are rubbing and cause a blurred image, and that it covers the face of the stone completely, so that you won't get marks on it.
- If only doing lunettes, please be sure that a large enough area is covered to protect the stone.
- With your fingers, press the paper lightly against the stone. This will cause the paper to indent into the carvings, resulting in a clearer image, with less rubbing medium accidentally transferring into "blank" areas.
- Using rubbing wax, a large crayon, charcoal, or chalk, gently start to rub along the outside edges - creating a "frame" for your rubbing. Using long, even strokes following the same direction, fill in the "frame".
- Rub lightly to start with, and then apply more pressure to darken in the design if it suits you. Be very careful and gentle.
- If you used chalk for your rubbing, then carefully spray the paper with a chalk spray such as Krylon. Be very careful not to get any on the tombstone. It is best to remove the paper from the stone and lay it flat on the ground in an area away from any stones before spraying.
- When the rubbing is done, carefully remove it from the tombstone and trim the edges to suit your liking. Remove the tape from the paper, being careful not to tear the edges of the paper.
- If you have a general idea as to the size of the stones that you will be rubbing, you could pre cut your rubbing papers of choice at home and carry them in a paper or plastic mailing tube. You can also use a plastic 3" sewer or PVC plastic pipe, with one flat end cap glued in place to the pipe and on the other end a screw in cap, that is meant to be a cleanout. This way you will have your transportation problem solved prior to starting your trip.
- Art portfolios used to transport drawings/oils/pastels, etc. are great for storage and transportation of rubbings that need to be laid flat. These can be somewhat expensive, but are well worth it if you plan to do this over a long period of time. They have a handle and zipper, can be locked, and are great for traveling on planes or long trips. Cheaper portfolios, made of lightweight cardboard and having only an elastic-band or wound-string closure, can also be used for short-term storage, when you will be handling the package yourself and don't need to worry about it being mishandled by a baggage attendant.
- Take along a roll of kitchen waxed paper to go between each rubbing which will reduce or prevent smudging until you get home.
- If you bring your fixative with you, please take into account that any aerosol type of can, especially one containing flammables, is liable to confiscation by airlines, as it is dangerous to carry such materials aboard a plane.
PRESERVING THE RUBBING
- Once you get your rubbings home and wish to preserve them in their original state, use an aerosol adhesive product. Two sets of tweezers (found in "beading" section of art supply) should be used to manipulate the rubbing (paper) onto acid-free mat board, available at most art supply stores. Carefully line up the bottom edge of the rubbing paper with the bottom edge of the board, then gently smooth the paper upward onto the board using light pressure with a roller. Be sure to keep the paper taut to prevent creasing or wrinkling.
- If you wish to further preserve rubbings applied to mat board, apply the board to foam core, which is stiff enough to withstand just about any handling. Make sure the foam core is also acid-free, or it will contaminate the mat board over time.
- If you choose to frame your rubbings, be sure the framer includes "spacers" between the paper and the glass, to enable the paper to "breathe", and prevent damage from condensation or mildew.
- Aluminum Foil Rubbing - An alternative to traditional wax or crayon type rubbings is that of aluminum foil & a damp sponge. Place foil on marker, dull side up so the sun doesn't reflect back into your eyes Using the damp sponge press gently so as to not tear the foil around the carving or writing areas and instantly you have a 3-D impression of the marker that you can keep or ball it up and put it into your recycling bag.
Many times when visiting an older cemetery or undertaking a clean up and restoration project you will find numerous rocks located within that cemetery. While these rocks may look to be at first glance just randomly scattered rocks, in reality they often are the only marker or indication that this is in fact the location of a grave. A general rule to follow is that you should never remove a rock from a cemetery.
The use of rocks as grave markers can be for any number of reasons. Some of these include:
Many people could not afford to purchase a carved gravestone. Often times in these cases "field stones" or other such rocks were used in place of a carved marker. During the depression years there was no money to purchase gravestones and it seems over the years no one has stepped up to replace the stones. Still more cemeteries will often have rows of graves with "field stone" markers. Many times graves were marked by non-native rocks (all others having been removed from the immediate vicinity) so that others would know a grave existed. Often times a larger rock was placed at the head of the grave and a smaller one at the foot. Later, if a traditional tombstone was placed, the rock was removed at the time the marker was erected. Some have long flat rocks placed in the ground in a perpendicular fashion to resemble the regular gravestones but some are marked with just a rock.
Local Customs - While the grave itself may or may not have been marked by a rock, with many of the older burial sites it was a custom to outline the grave with a border of rocks. This custom may have arisen from local customs of using field rocks to outline fields, or build cairns for property corner markers.
Lack of a local stone mason at the time.
In some cases there rocks have been removed by workers in order to make mowing easier. All too often we are discovering that a Boy Scout troop or a 4-H group did a community service project and removed all the "loose" rocks from the cemeteries. It is also possible if you find a pile of rocks in the area of a neglected or abused cemetery that someone before you removed them from graves, and piled them where you are finding them.
In the very old cemeteries in the desert west, a wooden cross was placed at the head of the grave and the grave outlined in small rocks. It didn't take long for the sand to cover the small rocks and for the wooden cross to deteriorate. So, if anyone discovers a line of small rocks in or under the sand, look for the grave!
According to Terry Jordan in his book "Texas Cemeteries, A cultural legacy", there is a practice known it the Southern United States as "scraping" (as in scraping clean) of either a grave or an entire cemetery. The first glimpse of such a cemetery truly startles the unsuspecting visitor. Throughout the burial ground, the natural grasses and weeds have been laboriously chopped or "scraped" away, revealing an expanse of read-orange East Texas soil or somber black prairie earth, sometimes decorated with raked patterns, At each grave, this dirt is heaped in an elongated mound, oriented on an east-west and anchored by a head and foot stone. In his book, he has a map of all of the counties in Texas and he has marked all of the known counties that have entire cemeteries scraped along with other counties which have an occasional scraped grave. To quote from his book, "Perhaps no feature of the southern folk cemetery begs more for interpretation than the practice of scraping." He states that he interviewed several individuals when they were "working" the cemetery. The term "working" is another old term describing when a group of individuals went to their cemetery to clean it up. Many cemeteries were "worked" only once a year at the annual meeting of the association. Usually this was an all-day affair where everybody brought food and drinks along with chairs and tables and worked on the graveyard. Stones were attended to along with weeds and grass were removed as well as any fallen branches. At some of the cemetery association meetings, a preacher also preached to the crowd.
Mr. Jordan said that most likely, this particular practice may have its origin in Africa. Near equivalents to bare earth cemeteries can be found in the traditional practices of the West African slave coast...I believe the scraped wrath cemetery is an Africanism and goes hand-in-hand with the typically southern and African swept-earth yard surrounding dwellings. Indeed southern folks typically refer to their cemeteries as 'yards.' Grass, in Africa and the South, was an unwelcome intruder. Respectable people kept it chopped out of yards, fields, and burial grounds. Some rural Anglos in Texas even refer to scraping as "plowing." The Ultimate African reasons were possibly the danger posed by grassfires and the proverbial snake in the grass. Removal of the grass also kept loose livestock from grazing (and defecating) in yards and cemeteries. Or, perhaps, scraping came south across Africa to the slave coast long ago with Islam. In that case, the laborious scraped Texas graveyards could be an effort to re-create, in a humid climate, the long-forgotten desert desolation of the Sahara and Arabia, where Moslem dead lie beneath the bare sand. In Nigeria graves were covered with mud plaster and in the Ashanti hinterland in Ghana they erected conical mud mounds over their graves. Many times the dead were buried in the earthen floor of their house, in the swept-earth yards or in tilled gardens.
The Spaniards brought to the New World the practice of establishing a "blessed field" to establish a special sacredness. Burials could be in the church floor. Families of wealth and influence considered church burials as a status symbol. Camposantos were fine for the poor and converted Indians, but not for rico. (Terry Gordon book Texas Graveyards.) It could
He went on to write that when he interviewed one person at a cemetery "working," he asked the man exactly why he was doing this. The man replied, "Grandpaw killed himself keeping the weeds out of his cotton, and we're not about to let them grow on his grave now." Mr. Jordan also noted that some of the Native American groups practiced scraping, especially the Alabama-Coushatta. On Mr. Jordan's map, there are four counties all located along the west bank of the Trinity River where there isn't any known cemetery that practices the art of scraping. He also shows a few on the east bank down river and in Johnson County northwest of here. This may indicate that the settlers who migrated here came from certain areas of the eastern seaboard where this habit of scraping wasn't practiced.
The practice of scraping graves is dying and some of the old ones are now partially or wholly covered with grass.
One of the more interesting aspects of older cemeteries is the horticultural, or various types of plants that may be found within. The specific types of plants and trees that will be found in a specific cemetery will vary widely from region to region. But in general, the plant life that can be found within older cemeteries can offer a valuable and important history lesson themselves.
While some smaller and more rural graveyards still allow, or even encourage, the involvement of family members in the landscaping around a loved one's grave, many cemeteries today post signs that request that visitors do not plant permanent plants. The reasoning behind this is that assuming the plants survive, over time they can easily become over grown if not cared for on a regular basis The growth of these plants can and will begun to cover up the gravestones, making it difficult for others to find the burials, or possibly causing damage to the stone itself. Some types of plants can spread rapidly and not only cover the gravestone, but the entire area surrounding it. Lilacs in particular can really spread and take over a cemetery.
Cemeteries as a horticultural repository
Cemeteries are not only memorials to the dead; they also have secured a vital function as horticultural repositories. An article in the November 1996 issue of Southern Living discussed the cemetery as a storehouse of plants as opposed to a storehouse of bodies. Many of the plants found in older cemeteries reflect the horticultural tastes of a different era, and sometimes antique varieties of plants that are thought to be either endangered or lost can be found growing in older graveyard. It should also be noted that in many cases cemeteries also functioned in the capacity of "testing grounds" for plants that are now common in our yards and gardens. Before any clean up or landscaping is attempted, you should make sure you aren't disturbing valuable or rare plant life. In some cases, it is a crime to remove live plants from a cemetery.
The use of native plantings is becoming more popular nationwide, with these plantings being used for their historical value, beauty, and hardiness in a given climate. A very comprehensive site for information on native plants across the United States (including Invasive & Noxious plants) can be found at http://plants.usda.gov/.
Developed by Dr. Randy Westbrooks, The Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds has produced a comprehensive fact book, "Invasive plants: changing the landscape of America", intended to raise awareness of the destruction and economic losses caused by invasive plants in the United States. While not specifically geared to cemetery issues, this compilation of facts presents a excellent overview of the problems presented by invasive plants and talks about both individual and collaborative efforts to respond to this threat.
Trees in Cemeteries
The trees that can be found in cemeteries may be some of the oldest and largest types of their kind in the area as they were to some degree protected from being cut down for what ever reason.
Ornamental iron fences and gates surround many houses of worship, churchyards, and cemeteries. Designed to complement the architectural style of the building, they may be constructed of: wrought iron hammered over an anvil and bent into thin shapes; cast iron molded in foundries; or modern mild steel, which is easily worked. The best way to maintain ironwork is to keep an intact paint coating over all surfaces. In addition, joints should be protected with a flexible sealant -- usually polyurethane. It is essential to keep iron protected from the damaging effects of water -- iron's worst enemy -- which causes bare metal to rust immediately upon contact. Water that enters unprotected cracks and joints of cast iron elements causes it to rust from the inside or fracture from expansion during freeze/thaw cycles.
Inspect metal work twice each year to identify items such as: rust spots, peeling paint, and failed sealants; loose and rusty fasteners, straps, and joints; cracks; missing components; deterioration at connections to masonry walls, steps, and coping stones; and unstable footings. Keep records of inspections and maintenance actions, including complete information on the paints, sealants, and other materials used for repair.
Routine maintenance, such as repainting, sealing joints, and replacing fasteners, can often be undertaken by an owner and contractor; however, more extensive repairs, paint removal, and restoration should also involve a qualified architect or building conservator to develop project specifications. Before undertaking any work, check with local municipal agencies (including landmark commissions) to ensure that the work is not in violation of any laws.
Maintain ironwork in good condition by repainting every three to four years, typically with brush-applied high-gloss alkyd paint. Hand scrape, chip, and wire-brush loose paint and light rust, and clean the surface thoroughly before painting, and wear protective gear at all times. Small defects can be patched with filler compounds and minor cracks sealed. Major cracks often require replacement of components. Complete removal of paint to bare metal may be specified in certain areas like newel posts, rosettes, and finials to restore crisp details or expose structural defects. All areas of exposed bare metal must be coated with a quality metal primer before painting. Old paint that is tightly adhered may be left in place if it is compatible with proposed coatings.
Rust and loose pint should be removed before repainting iron. The restored Gothic Revival-style cast iron fence at First Presbyterian Church, New York, NY, is a significant architectural feature.
Paint stripping methods commonly used on iron fences include caustic chemical gels or pastes that contain the residue in a plastic covering, and mechanical grinding with devices that vacuum hazardous particles into filters. For both minor surface preparation and paint stripping, the ground and adjacent surfaces should be covered with sheeting to collect debris and workers should be protected. On some projects, the job-site should be enclosed or entire fences removed to a shop. For additional information about maintaining iron fences, contact the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Be aware that historic ironwork is often coated with layers of lead paint, unless it was stripped to bare metal and repainted with lead-free modern paints in recent decades. Adjacent soil may be contaminated from fallen paint chips and debris from previous paint removal. Testing for the samples and soil cores to a State-accredited environmental testing laboratory. (Do-it-yourself lead test kits are less reliable.) Never allow maintenance personnel, volunteers, or contractors to remove lead paint without following current environmental and labor regulations.
Acknowledgments: Barry Maher, H & S Environmental, New York, NY; Antonia Gilligan, Ambiant Laboratories, New York; John G. Waite, AIA, Preservation Briefs 27: The Maintenance and Repair of Architectural Cast Iron (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1991); New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Rowhouse Manual.
Many people do not realize that the early or "colonial" era gravestones of the United States are in fact much larger that what you see above ground. Because of the thickness of these early gravestones half of the length will be found below ground level. This was not only done to ensure that the gravestone would remain straight and sturdy, but for other reasons such as the frost over many northern winters would push the gravestone up. A gravestone with a shorter base would over time be prone to falling over. The use of the long base would prevent this. With the turn of the 20th Century, gravestones gradually became thicker & heavier eliminating the need to set so much of the stone below ground. A concrete foundation was simply poured to keep the stone in place.
There are numerous reasons why one of these early gravestones might start to lean. Sometimes the tilting of the gravestone was caused by the grave collapsing over the years, and the settling caused the stone to tilt in that direction. Adverse weather conditions such as the winter frost as mentioned above or abnormally heavy rain seasons could lead to this.
You will also discover that stones of this nature are still in use today. Government issued veteran gravestones are 42 inches long, with half in the ground.
Resetting one of these stones is not an easy process to undertake and the following things should be kept in mind when working with this type of gravestone:
- Before attempting anything of this nature be sure that if at all possible you have written permission.
- Research local laws or cemetery rules and regulations to be sure that this type of work is legal in the cemetery. You may discover that some local governments will not the use of specific tools such as A hoe shovel, or pick except by cemetery workers.
- Attempting to straighten the gravestone by pushing or rocking can and will cause it to break off at ground level. This should not be done.
- You should first have some idea of what caused the problem in the first place, the type of stone, and be able to gauge with accuracy the degree of wear the gravestone has undergone. In the case of the type of stone if you're dealing with a gravestone from another era, it's probably not made of the durable granite almost universally used today. Red sandstone, commonly used during the American Colonial Period, and marble, which became popular during the 19th Century after quarries were opened in Vermont, are among the historic materials which are very vulnerable to erosion.
- To properly align the gravestone you will carefully need to excavate the base of the stone. Keep in mind that the stone will be quite heavy and unless you have the proper tools and equipment to heel the stone in place during the excavation process you may end up with a larger problem that you started out with. For more information on this area, please see Lifting Stones With A Tripod Hoist.
- Once you have the gravestone reset in it's proper position, you must be sure to repack the soil surrounding it hard enough to support the gravestone. Take into account that a good rain may come along and loosen the dirt causing the stone to start tilting all over again.
You may discover that it may be for the best to simply leave the tilting stone as you found it and not take the chance of doing further damage. If you are not experienced in this type of work it is highly recommended that you do not attempt to re set the stone. The state, county or local historic society or museum should be able to advise you and provide you with the names of restorers in your vicinity. Some museums are even directly involved in gravestone restoration, with experts on the premises. If the damaged gravestone is from the modern era, any local monument business should be able to repair it. In the case of a crooked/sunken stone, the cemetery may be responsible for providing a new foundation, especially if the burial involved a "perpetual care" fee. Again, the costs will vary; don't hesitate to ask and shop around.
"There is so much misinformation available on the right way to document a gravestone marker that it is a wonder that any of them are still standing."
- Maureen Taylor
The World Wide Web has been a godsend to those both trying to provide as well as those searching for information in the area of cemetery preservation. The number of web sites pertaining in some fashion to this area has grown vastly in the past several years. For example, if you were to go to the Google website and enter the words "cemetery preservation" as a search field, you would get back a list of some 355,900 possible matching links. On the words "cemetery restoration", some 49,00 possible links. And more are being added every day. As a direct result of this rapid growth, a problem not limited to this specific area, but widespread over the entire Internet has shown it's face. Anyone, anywhere in the world with access to a computer and a little basic knowledge of the aspects of getting a web page online can put just about any information that they feel like out there. In many cases this could (and should be) be viewed as a positive thing. However, in reality many of these people are placing information out there for others to find that is incorrect and as a direct result encouraging people who are trying to do the right thing to go out to the cemetery and do things that should not be done.
One topic that has been debated for quite some time now is the use of Shaving Cream on a gravestone in order to make the carvings more visible. Most people who have some experience in this area know that this is not a good practice and by doing so you can cause irreparable damage to the stone itself in many cases. And while there are a number of web sites that encourage the reader to not use this method of reading a stone, a good number of them do not go into any detailed explanations as to why it is not a good practice and what effects it can have on the stone. They do not tell you that most brands and types contain, among other things, perfumes and stearic acid. They also do not inform you that the pH of typical shaving cream is in 5 range, which makes it more acidic than acid rain. Many of the newer shaving creams such as the Gillette Series line have replaced stearic acid with palmitic acid which while somewhat safer for use on your skin should still not be used on the surface of a gravestone.
They say something to the effect of "Do not apply shaving cream or other chemicals to the stones, as this can also cause damage", and assume that you will take them at their word and not do it because they told you so. . Even the Association For Gravestone Studies is not constant in dealing with the subject on their web site. If you look for the information on the Preservation page, you find the following somewhat detailed information;
"Why can't I use shaving cream to highlight inscriptions on difficult to read stones?
Our professional conservators tell us it is definitely not a good idea to use shaving cream on porous gravestones because there are chemicals, greasy emollients, in shaving cream that are sticky and very difficult to remove from the stone with a simple washing. Indeed, even with vigorous scrubbing and lots of rinsing, the cream fills in the pours of a porous stone and cannot all be removed. The result of leaving it there is that in time it may discolor or damage the stone."
However if you were to look on the F.A.Q. page, it states only:
"Don't use shaving cream, chalk, graphite, dirt, or other concoctions in an attempt to read worn inscriptions".
Found on the Ancestry.com website is the following, reprinted from the November/December 1994 issue (Vol.12 No.6) :
"Put the plastic bag on your hand; squirt shaving cream either into your hand or directly on the stone; rub cream all over the stone, squeegee the stone in one direction over the inscription. If the stone is large, you may want to do parts at a time since the cream will dry quickly on a hot day. If the inscription is not clear, apply the cream again, and squeegee in another direction. Some information may still be illegible, but you may get part of a name or date that you couldn't read with the "naked eye." If the stone is shiny granite, shaving cream in the inscription will allow the stone to photograph much better. Since the cream does not harm the stone, and water or rain washes any excess cream away, this method is safe."
Now to make things even more confusing, if you were to further research the Ancestry.com website you would find this in Ancestry Daily News edition of 6/1/1999:
"Do not apply shaving cream or other chemicals to the stones, as this can also cause damage"
In all fairness, some web sites start to tell you why to not use this method, along the lines of what AGS has done on the preservation page, such as the Texas State Historical Commission, who state on their page "People should avoid using harsh substances with emollients, such as shaving cream, to reveal inscriptions; the oils from these products are not washed off by rain and can cause the stone to deteriorate.". In the Newsletter of the Canterbury Genealogy Society Discussion Group, February 2000 issue, they state "Shaving cream does, indeed, leave an acid residue that does not wash off. It destroys marble and limestone".
However, if you are going to tell people not to use this method, then an explanation of exactly why this should not be done is in order. Otherwise why should someone take those words at face value over those that tell a different story?
So, why not use Shaving Cream in order to make the stone more readable? Careful research of the question yields some insightful and valuable information on the subject. To begin with, the exact formulas for shaving creams are corporate trade secrets however, it is common knowledge that most contain emollients to soften the skin, while at the same time protecting it. Shaving Cream also contains a chemical known as stearic acid (defined by Britannica.com as "a colourless, waxy solid that is almost insoluble in water") which will cause the surface of the stone to exfoliate, especially if that stone is either granite, marble or limestone. Granite is an igneous rock, and therefore highly susceptible to any type of chemical weathering. By putting shaving cream on the stone, you are doing the same thing acid rain does over a long period of time, only you are hastening the destruction. Marble and Limestone are highly reactive to acids, and will actually sublimate in the presence of hydrochloric acid. That means it will go from a solid to a vapor without a liquid stage, as it releases certain parts of its chemical structure. Further reason for not using shaving cream lies in the potential damage over a very long period of time, not just a few years. The chemicals in shaving cream will permeate into the microscopic pores of the stone and will not be readily washed out. These chemicals, which consist of soaps, mineral oil, fatty alcohols and other skin conditioners are all organic compounds which are biodegradable. Since they are biodegradable, they provide food for microscopic organisms, fungi, mosses, etc. The growth of such organisms in the pores of a stone causes expansive forces which will gradually cause microscopic particles of the stone to be flaked off. These enlarged microscopic pores can also collect moisture in wet freezing weather and the freezing action causes microscopic fractures of the stone because, as you know, water expands upon freezing. In other words, only completely chemically inert materials should ever contact a tombstone.
The rule that should be followed is to do no harm, and nothing irreversible. Anything that dislodges bits of stone IS damaging. Likewise, don't use any chemical compounds that are untested or cannot be removed completely. The residue from Styrofoam is inert, therefore not chemically damaging. Shaving creams and other household cleaning chemicals have active (and usually acidic) components. If you ever have an opportunity to observe professional stone conservators work on old stones you will find that they begin cleaning with the weakest possible substance (water) progressing to other cleaners as appropriate. When chemical cleaners are called for they use very weak (non-acidic) cleaners and the absolutely flood the stones with water to wash away as much residue as possible.
So now we have solid, logical reasoning backed up with hard facts as to why not use shaving cream on a stone. But again falling back to the problem at hand, for every web site that will tell you to not us this method, there are just as many sources on the Internet today that will tell you exactly the opposite. For example, if you were to go to the Ghostseakers Genealogy Tip of the Week Web site You find this as a recommended method:
"Shaving Cream Method - Place some shaving cream on the stone. Run a squeegee across the stone so that the shaving cream remains imbedded in the lettering. Photograph. Using your water bottle and spray bottle, clean the stone thoroughly and wipe gently with a soft clean rag."
And Dick Eastman on his Tombstone Rubbing hints web page has this to say:
"There appears to be two successful ways to read old tombstone inscriptions. These are so successful that there are reports of reading inscriptions that have defied older methods. The first method is very simple: use shaving cream! First, wet the stone. Then cover a section of the stone with the moist cream and then scrape the excess cream of with a piece of Styrofoam. The cream goes into the inscription making it readable. The cream must be moist to work. Neither the Styrofoam nor the cream will damage the stone. This works very well when making photographs of a tombstone. Try to photograph in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun's rays are at an angle."
It's interesting that Mr. Eastman not only tells us that this will not harm the stone, but to not bother washing it off, but does not mention at all any cleaning procedures. Are we to assume that we should just leave the cream on the stone? And to further compound the problem, the exact same information, word for word is found not only at www.purleyradio.co.uk/files/cemrub.txt but again the exact same information is found reprinted at: bally.fortunecity.com/mulligan/173/pages/newsletters/i_s_1995-07.txt
The Heritage Tours of Dover, New Hampshire had the following advice to offer:
"** To read or photograph a stone, squirt a mist of water from a spray bottle onto the stone. Then apply a generous amount of shaving cream from a can. Using a squeegee," shave" the stone. The shaving cream will remain in work carved letters and details for a short time, making it easier to read or photograph. Wipe off cream when finished."
Well, at least they told us to wipe it off when finished. Which is somewhat more responsible than The Dallas Jewish Historical Society, who tells us that not only is it safe to use shaving cream, but to not bother cleaning it off the stone as it will wash off during the next rain:
"For dark-colored stones, spray the face of the stone with non-mentholated shaving cream. Squeegee this across the face of the stone with either a squeegee or a piece of cardboard. The white shaving cream will stay in the low areas of the stone and provide the much-needed contrast for your picture. It is also soluble in water. As long as the stone is not marble, the shaving cream will not hurt the stone. It will wash off in the next rain."
John B. Grimes, who on his website CEMETERY KIT informs us that in his opinion :
" The very best way to record the inscriptions is to photograph them and THE best way is to fill the inscription letters with a bright white, temporary, non-damaging material that will bring out the inscription so that it nearly shouts at you - this is done using ordinary canned shaving cream to fill the letters, and a squeegee to remove excess shaving cream from the flat surface - leaving the letters VERY clear and highly readable."
He then goes on to recommends bringing with you to the cemetery the following items:
A large, inexpensive, can of shaving cream. Barbasol works good and is cheap.
A rubber spatula such as is used for spreading body putty at a car body shop. Can be purchased very cheaply at most auto part stores. A 4" or 5" metal putty knife also works, but for the purist, a metal object scraping across a headstone is anathema. This spatula or putty knife is used to spread shaving cream over the face of the grave stone, forcing the bright, white, shaving cream into the engraving on the stone. (Note: The purist will claim that you should not use shaving cream. While I have heard this, there has never been a shred of evidence to convince me that the occasional application of shaving cream is going to do ANY harm.) Certainly a well conducted photo survey of a graveyard, particularly a small family plot that is no longer being cared for, and the forwarding of the results of your efforts to your state Archives, will do more to preserving the information than any other thing you can do, as it obviates the need for others to come to the graveyard and go through the ordeal of clearing it (and possibly damaging some stones in the process) and "defiling" a headstone with shaving cream every decade.
Rubber window washing rubber squeegee, about 9" or 10" in width (an old windshield wiper works in a pinch). This tool will wipe away the shaving cream on the surface of the stone leaving an amazingly clear and readable stone face, suitable for photographing. You will be amazed at how formerly unreadable headstones become crystal clear. You can use your hand for all of this shaving cream spreading, but by the time you have done two or three stones, you will be covered in shaving cream, as will your camera, tools, friends, bushes, etc. It is diabolical stuff.
Paper Towels - to keep the shaving cream at bay and wipe your sweated brow."
Dan Maxson recently authored a web page entitled "Cleaning and Reading Tombstones" located at http://www.enchantedmountains.com/Tombstones/Tombstones.htm . In the page he manages to give just about every single piece of bad advice that he can think of on the subject, including the following:
"I cannot find any possible way that shaving creme can damage a stone. You men have used it and know that it does not contain abrasives that will damage your skin; so, it will not wear the stone away. The big objection that I have heard is that shaving creme is acid and will eat the stone away. If you read the label, you will note that it does contain stearic acid."
"The main reason that I rinse the stone is for esthetic reasons. People will feel better about it. If you leave the shaving crème, the next rain will wash it off and it will help neutralize the acid rain or soil to a small degree. I use a pump up garden sprayer for rinsing the stones."
And just so you do not think that this problem of disinformation exists only on the web, we have the words of wisdom that John Kent had to offer on VAROOTS mailing list:
"The sky is falling! The sky is falling said Chicken Little. Now y'all stay out of these big ole sky scraper buildings made of all this stone that the janitorial crews put all this nasty cleaning stuff on cause the building might collapse on top of you. I'm surprised the Stone Rights Advocates don't jump up and down and have a little hissie fit every time they see a cleaning crew desecrating the stone on these sky scrapers with all their strong cleaning reagents. Think of it like this: if you can't read the markings on a tomb stone it isn't doing you much good. Gutson Borglum would roll over in his grave if he knew he could have used shaving cream instead of a chisel to create all his masterpieces. Just rub a little bit here and a little bit there and the stone would dissolve and disappear right before his eyes and leave his design."
And finally, John is not alone. In what in my opinion has to be one of the best examples of arrogance that I have seen to date, Judy Harris on the CEMETERY mailing list voiced her feelings on the subject of shaving cream in the following words:
"I have cleaned several family tombstones dating back to 1800 with shaving cream and yes, folks, I even have tombstone rubbings from this small family cemetery in Southern Indiana. Sue me if you want, but they are MY, I repeat **MY** family and some of these stones were unreadable any other way. One was not readable (period). This is *my* family. *I* carry their blood in my veins as do my children. I take those children 400 miles round trip every year to pay respects to great great grandparents who were dead before my grandparents were even born. The last burial there was well over 100 years ago and I am the only person who has visited for many many years."