If you’re an avid family historian, chances are you’ve wandered around a graveyard more than once searching for ancestors. Regardless of whether you are an old pro, or a beginner, you’ll find there are several handy tools to have with you when visiting a graveyard to archive history. In your family history cemetery kit, Be sure to include…
1) Drinking Water
Though a short trip to the cemetery may be intended, unexpected incidents can easily crop up. Cool days turn suddenly hot, or you take a wrong turn in the cemetery, or have difficulty finding a headstone. Having drinking water on hand to ensure you can stay comfortable and hydrated will give you more time to find the graves you’re searching for.
2) Notebook and Pen
Some details are easier to see in person than in photos. Recording names, dates, and other important information about the headstone, such as location, nearby landmarks, and more can make your headstone easier to archive and find in the future.
Like with the above, using a camera to record the headstone, landmarks, and other distinguishing information is very useful when visiting a cemetery. In addition, these pictures can be uploaded to online resources such as FindaGrave so that others can see and preserve records of the headstone as well. For headstone photography guidelines, click here. Double check before departure that your camera has a fully charged battery, extra batteries, and/or an extra memory card.
In the event that the sun is shining in the wrong direction, or that the stone itself is obscured by large, shady trees, it’s handy to have a mirror that can reflect natural sunlight onto the stone, better illuminating it for photos. If this fails due to a cloudy day, a flashlight can work as a substitute.
5) Gardening Tools
Sometimes those old headstones in rundown cemeteries are partially obscured by overgrown grass, old leaves, or dirt, and may require a little bit of pruning so that the headstone is visible once more. Always clean around a headstone with great care. Find the edges of the stone first with your fingers. Never apply sharp tools directly on the headstone which will risk scratching or damaging it. Include gloves among your other favorite gardening tools, to protect your hands from possible thorny weeds or other hazards. Additionally, wet wipes can be useful if your hands do get dirty.
6) Soft Nylon Paintbrush
Once the weeds have been cleared away, it’s possible there may be some dirt caught in the fine details of the headstone’s inscription. A soft nylon paintbrush can be used to carefully clean out grime from grooves.
7) Spray Bottle
Once the headstone is all clear, a spray bottle can be useful to bring out details. Details can be seen more easily on a wet stone. Avoid dumping water on headstones lest they wear away over time. Instead, gently spritz the stone so that it’s just damp enough to bring out the features you need to photograph.
Having a hard time reading the headstone? Rubbings can be known to damage a stone. Instead, gently apply a thin sheet of tinfoil and carefully run over with a damp cloth to imprint the stone’s details on the tinfoil.
Sunscreen and bug repellent should be a staple in your kit when visiting a cemetery. Additionally, consider bringing a pad to kneel on. Pads can consist of anything from a soft cushion, to a yoga mat, to a simple garbage bag depending on your needs. Softer padding can help protect your knees if you intend to be kneeling over a headstone (or headstones!) for quite sometime, whereas a simple plastic bag can fulfill the basic need of protecting your knees from dirt, mud, or wet grass.
Last but not least, you’ll need a case of some sort to put your kit in so that you can easily grab it and go. There are many different kinds of options for cases, from a briefcase, to buckets, to baskets, to even a good sized purse. Find the item that fits best for you.
What did you realize you were in need of the last time you visited a cemetery?