Recording Dates from Gravestones
by Lisa South, Certified Genealogist
The following article was written in the May
13, 2005 OneGreatFamily newsletter. Since Lisa is no
longer writing for us, we are featuring some of our
favorite articles written by her.
My husband and I have trekked many graveyards
locating and recording information found on tombstones.
We've done it at night with flashlights. We've done it
with babes in arms, and we've done it at the risk of
having to buy out all the Chigger-rid the local stores
had in stock - and it's always been worth it!
Many graveyards have been canvassed and the
information has been put on the internet. This is a real
boon to genealogists; yet, if at all possible, it is
still better if you can actually go to the cemetery
yourself. When someone else copies the information from
a tombstone, there is always the possibility of error.
Also the way the tombstones are laid out is often a clue
to family relationships. When you copy information from
cemetery headstones, you should always also include a
simple map or description indicating the physical
placement of the graves. Another good reason to visit
the cemetery yourself is that it gives you the
opportunity to copy information from the tombstones
close to the one you've been looking for, especially if
it appears to be a family plot. This information can
give you clues about family relationships which you may
have been missing.
You can extract the information from a gravestone,
but of course that makes the document less valuable
because it is a copy. Photographs of the tombstone are
considered an original of the source (for information
about evaluating a source see "How to Evaluate Genealogy
Documents" in OGF archives). You should never put
anything on the stone that could damage it, nor should
you try to dig out the letters to make them clearer.
Before taking the picture you can wash it off with water
and if necessary brush gently with a soft brush. Many
sites will suggest that you put shaving cream on the
tombstone and scrap it off with a soft scraper before
taking a picture. Although this does make the stone much
easier to read, shaving creams contain chemicals that
will damage the stone. Even if you wipe or rinse off the
cream, harmful residue may still remain.
Some people like to make grave rubbings of the
tombstone. There are many places where grave rubbings
are illegal and you could receive a stiff fine, so be
sure to make inquiries. A good grade of paper large
enough to cover the tombstone, 100% cotton rag drafting
vellum, or butcher paper all work well. You can rub with
a lumber crayon from a lumber yard, brass rubbing wax,
or even a large 1st grader's crayon.
The first step in tombstone rubbing is to brush the
stone. Using a soft bristle brush, gently brush away
anything that would interfere with the rubbing. Do not
scrub! Place paper over the tombstone. Having two people
is the easiest - one to hold the paper in place and one
to make the rubbing. You can also make one large rubber
band out of regular rubber bands (the way you did when
you were a kid) and hold the paper on the tombstone with
the "giant" rubber band. Rub carefully so that you do
not tear the paper or damage the tombstone. After
completing the rubbing and removing it from the stone,
you can spray the paper with a spray fixative to prevent
it from blurring.
ALWAYS treat the grave with respect and completely
clean up the area before leaving.