A. A state, county, municipality or a cemetery itself can set rules regarding tombstone rubbings.
Historic cemeteries and those popular with tourists, such as Boston’s Old Granary (final resting place for many Revolutionary War heroes), often prohibit tombstone rubbings because of the potential damage. Repeated rubbings of a stone, even when done properly, cause deterioration over time.
Similarly, Department of Veterans Affairs national cemeteries also do not authorize gravestone rubbings. (You can search burials in VA cemeteries using the Nationwide Gravesite Locator.)
You also may find rubbings aren’t prohibited, but regulated. In Andover, Mass., for example, Spring Grove Cemetery requires visitors to register with the foreman before doing a rubbing.
New Hampshire law states “No person shall make gravestone rubbings in any municipal cemetery or burial ground without first obtaining the written permission of the town selectmen or the mayor of a city … [who] will ascertain to the best of their ability that the person making the request knows the proper precautions.”
Before you visit a cemetery to do a rubbing, call ahead to see if it’s permitted. Most cemetery Web sites I checked didn’t address the issue; I’d try to talk to a person just to be safe.
For some cemeteries, it’s not clear whom to call. Try the local municipal government or parks department, which may take over maintenance once the family or oganization that established a cemetery is gone. A local genealogical or historical society might be able to give helpful information, too.
Before visiting a cemetery located on private property—common in rural areas—check cemetery access laws to ensure you’re not trespassing. You may have to go during certain hours or get permission from the landowner to cross his property.
Even when tombstone rubbings are allowed, use common sense: If a stone is unsteady, crumbling or fragile, don’t take a rubbing—take a picture and make a transcription instead.
See more gravestone rubbing dos and don’ts on the Association for Gravestone Studies Web site.