I’ve always liked poking around old cemeteries—even ones that were unrelated to my family. I especially like the artistry on some of the old markers—it seems to tell a more in-depth story about the people than just an inscription.
I took photos about 30 years ago of some of the oldest family stones I’d found at the time. Several of the stones were in such poor condition that the inscription was very difficult to read. Unfortunately, I didn’t know as much about photography then as I do now—or about the tricks to lighting the stone’s surface. For example, gluing aluminum foil to a piece of cardboard is a cheap and easy way to make a reflector. If the lighting is poor on the stone’s surface, just hold your reflector at an angle to reflect light back on the stone.
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty in years past of using chalk on a difficult-to-read marker. The current thought is not to use chalk, as it can actually scratch a surface. Instead, make a tombstone rubbing using crayons and interfacing (a fabric). For complete details, read Sharon Carmack’s book Your Guide to Cemetery Research. Sharon takes you step-by-step (with pictures) on exactly how to get a rubbing without damaging the stone.
If you’re as much of a cemetery junkie as I am, Your Guide to Cemetery Research is a must-read. To be honest, I didn’t know there was so much to know about doing cemetery research. For example, how knowing the composition of the tombstone can date it, or how to translate the artwork and symbols on a marker. I wish I’d had this book years ago—it would really have helped my on-site cemetery research.
The largest congregation of my family burials is in the little cemetery at Lone Jack, Mo.—which is probably why I like it so much. Do you have a favorite family cemetery? If so, write and let me know.
Want to know more about cemetery research? Visit these sites:
• The Cemetery Connection
• A Guide for Cemetery Research
• Tiptoeing Through the Graveyard
• USGenWeb Tombstone Project
• Recording Monumental Inscriptions