How to Document a Cemetery
Old cemeteries represent an important heritage resource
worldwide. Unfortunately, many of the grave memorials in these cemeteries are
deteriorating at an alarming rate. Detailed cemetery recording provides a
permanent record of these sites, and a point of reference for future research
and conservation. The accurate transcription and publishing of cemetery records
is important because it preserves the record on the marker, even if the marker
itself is lost.
Documenting a cemetery should include a map detailing
the organization of graves, a data recording and filing system using inventory
sheets, and some historical and biographical research. Additional information
gathered may include an epitaph record, condition reports, videos, and a
photograph file. We highly recommend the
Standards for Transcribing Cemetery Headstones as developed by B. W.
Before starting a recording project, check whether one
has already been done. Even if an earlier recording has been made, it is
worthwhile to confirm and update the data, especially grave condition, and add
information that might have been omitted.
Planning for a recording project may take months of
work, lots of organization and above all, commitment. The initial step is to
obtain written permission from the managing authority or owner
of the cemetery. Next, plan the recording to take place during the summer
months. Make sure all the supplies are ready as needed and recorders have some
knowledge of their task.
You may want to do rubbings of some of the harder to
In the sections below you will find tips on how to best
do your own recording
Tools and Materials Needed
Notebook & pencils
A large sponge
A gallon jug of water
Mirror about 5"x7" size
Stiff handle natural soft bristle brush
Get written permission to enter if
the cemetery is on private land. Be respectful of the property
owner's rights. Close gates and keep on roads. Don't drive
across pastures or plowed ground. You want the farmer or rancher on
YOUR side. You are his guest.
Do your registry on a bright sunny day.
Many of the old stones will be badly eroded and the bright light will help
you. It is also more comfortable on you, it will be a long day,
usually. It can also be harder to work on a very windy day.A 5
gallon bucket makes thing to carry supplies in and at the same time you will
have something to sit on. After a couple of hours, your legs begin to
get tired just standing.
Take something along to eat and drink
as you will be there for a while. Go to the bathroom before you leave
home unless you have a particular fondness for copperheads.
Use the sun to help you read the
stones. If you are having trouble reading the old stones, record the
stones facing East in the morning and the stones facing West in the
afternoon. The small mirror can be used to reflect light across the
face to create shadows in the engravings on the stone.
If the stone cannot be read after these
attempts, You may want to do a rubbing of the stone.
- The location of each cemetery should be included with
directions by road mileage from the nearest major intersection or other
- All the markers in each cemetery should
be copied, preferably in order by row number and marker number. This
requirement may seem superfluous, but there are past cases where some
unknown selection process was used, whereby certain markers were
purposefully omitted from the survey. Do not omit any
- The markers are not arranged in any
cemetery alphabetically. Cemetery surveys of the individual markers should
be presented in the order the markers are located, usually in order by row
number and marker number, and not in alphabetical order. This
makes it much easier to physically locate any particular marker and maintain
possible family relationships for adjacent markers. Also, in the event any
marker becomes missing or illegible, it is possible to determine its exact
location within the cemetery.
Last but not least, when you leave the
cemetery, clean up after yourself and others. Take nothing but
pictures, leave nothing but tracks