The following is a recommended kit of items necessary to "attack" a properly grown over cemetery. The premise of this list is to bring everything, within reason, that you will need. If you don't bring it, you
 will suffer trying to do what needs to be done without the stuff you need to do it with. If you do bring it, and you don't need it, all you have to do is take it back home. This "kit list" is not an exercise in finely
 honed efficiency, but in what it takes to do a nasty job with as much effectiveness as possible. It is based on overkill - so use your judgment. If you have not seen the graveyard, err on the side of overkill.


1. Shovel or Military entrenching tool (folding shovel): This thing is invaluable for hacking, digging and prying knocked down grave stones up and/or over. Get one at a surplus store. A regular shovel is fine, just takes up more space in your vehicle.

2. Chain saw kit: (extra chain, gas (fill the gas can when you are approaching the area where the cemetery is, otherwise the fumes will drive you from an enclosed car - disregard if you have pickup truck), chain bar oil, and 2-cycle oil, hearing and eye protection, chain bar wrench, screwdriver). Ballistic Nylon chaps (made for serious chain saw users) are very good at warding off the most aggressive briars as well as an errant chain saw.

3. Gas powered Weed Eater: Initially I didn't believe a weed eater would be worth while (weeds and vines far to readily wrap themselves around the weed eater and you spend more time untangling than you do in effective work.). However, if you replace the standard string head or chain head with a Saw Blade (they make them specifically for Weed Eaters) it works like a charm, almost no tangling. Where small trees have been covered with vines, cut the tree off at the base, run the weed eater with the saw blade

around the base of the vines, then tie a rope with a slip knot around the whole mess, and jerk tree, vines and the works out with a pick-up. The only problem is you have GOT to be careful of any headstones in the path - you are there to clear the cemetery, not to destroy it.

4. Saw(s): Folding Game or Camp saw; and/or Bow Saw.

5. Lopers: - long handled cutters/clippers for saplings and branches.

6. Clippers: - hand, garden. same as 4, but for more numerous heavy briars or roots.

7. Probe: - essential for finding headstones that have fallen over and been covered with roots, ivy, leaves and dirt. I use the handle portion of a paint roller. Straighten the metal rod/axle and sharpen the end. This then screws into the three part paint roller extension and provides a great tool for probing into dark piles of briars or sticking into the soil listening for the distinct sound of metal on a large, dense stone.

8. STRONG flashlight: - for peering into dark copses of briars or shining across the face of a tombstone to determine if there is any engraving.

9. Stiff brush or Whisk Broom: - for cleaning dirt out of engraved letters and cleaning the face of an overturned tombstone. I would not recommend a wire brush - too aggressive on the face of the tombstone.

10. Brush Axe: - this is a large, oddly shaped chopping tool for clearing brush - if you have one bring it. If you don't, do without unless clearing graveyards is your life's work. It is a cumbersome tool to use, so don't buy one.

11. Machete and file: make sure you have a heavy machete and a file or other sharpener to sharpen it in the field. If you have brought a chain saw file in the chain saw kit, that will suffice. CAUTION: A machete is dangerous to use - it can easily richocete into your leg or other part - so use with great CAUTION.

12. Two pairs of leather gloves: (a hapless friend who has decided to join you at the last minute deserves your consideration of having a 2nd pair of gloves). If you want the best, get the Train Engineer kind with the large canvas cuffs that cover your wrists - particularly if you have to do war with briars.

13. Wear Jeans trousers or other very tough material trousers and bring a Jean jacket or similar tough jacket - the briars will shred anything less. (Carhart brand work clothes are great.)

14. Boots are the preferred foot wear for an afternoon soiree at the overgrown cemetery.

15. Plenty of bug repellent (if it is bug season), sunscreen and a hat that will cover your neck. The Avon product "Skin So Soft" is, inexplicably, the worlds best bug repellent - this stuff is awesome and if you are not on friendly terms with bugs it is indispensable. It is not the easiest stuff to find, but its worth the search. Add 5-7 drops of deet (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) to the "Skin So Soft" for the best protection. "Off" or "6-12" are good substitutes. "After Bite" or other bug bite treatments should be added to your First Aid Kit. Most repellents will keep chiggers and ticks away - but a thorough search and shower after your endeavors is a good idea. Snakes - boots, gloves and heavy pants are good assurance (not perfect) against snake bites. Except for Copperheads, Moccasins, Rattle Snakes, and Coral Snakes, which are of course serious dangers, most other snakes will cause no harm and are as anxious about you as you are about them and will quickly leave the area. Further, their bites are essentially harmless - far less problem than bee stings, especially if you step on an underground nest of yellow jackets. Take a can of Hornet Jet Spray - this kills 'em almost instantly.

Recording your efforts:
1. Bring a clipboard and paper and pencils/pen. Make sure you carefully describe how to find the cemetery, its orientation and layout. There is no such thing as too much information on how to find a cemetery, especially when off the beaten path.

2. Map and Compass: bring Coast and Geodetic Survey Topographical map and mark the cemetery location on it. Compass is important in describing the direction of roads/paths.

3. Prepare a Cemetery Layout. BE SURE you make a drawing that lays out the position of the gravestones so that anyone following you can determine what has been found before and what and where else one needs to look for additional stones.

4. Recorder - if by yourself you may wish to use a small recorder for reading the inscriptions - particularly if you are not going to photograph them.

Note: The very best way to record the inscriptions is to photograph them
and THE best way is to fill the inscription letters with a bright white,
temporary, non-damaging material that will bring out the inscription so
that it nearly shouts at you - this is done using ordinary canned shaving
cream to fill the letters, and a squeegee to remove excess shaving cream
from the flat surface - leaving the letters VERY clear and highly readable.
5. A large, inexpensive, can of shaving cream. Barbasol works good and is cheap.

6. A rubber spatula such as is used for spreading body putty at a car body shop. Can be purchased very cheaply at most auto part stores. A 4" or 5" metal putty knife also works, but for the purist, a metal object scraping across a headstone is anathema. This spatula or putty knife is used to spread shaving cream over the face of the grave stone, forcing the bright, white, shaving cream into the engraving on the stone. (Note: The purist will claim that you should not use shaving cream. While I have heard this, there has never been a shred of evidence to convince me that the occasional application of shaving cream is going to do ANY harm.) Certainly a well conducted photo survey of a graveyard, particularly a small family plot that is no longer being cared for, and the forwarding of the results of your efforts to your state Archives, will do more to preserving the information than any other thing you can do, as it obviates the need for others to come to the graveyard and go through the ordeal of clearing it (and possibly damaging some stones in the process) and "defiling" a headstone with shaving cream every decade.

7. Rubber window washing rubber squeegee, about 9" or 10" in width (an old windshield wiper works in a pinch). This tool will wipe away the shaving cream on the surface of the stone leaving an amazingly clear and readable stone face, suitable for photographing. You will be amazed at how formerly unreadable headstones become crystal clear. You can use your hand for all of this shaving cream spreading, but by the time you have done two or three stones, you will be covered in shaving cream, as will your camera, tools, friends, bushes, etc. It is diabolical stuff.

8. Paper Towels - to keep the shaving cream at bay and wipe your sweated brow.

9. Camera with flash and, if terrain allows, a tripod. An electronic flash is very useful in helping to render a sharp photo even when you are shaking from exhaustion. I STRONGLY recommend you photograph each gravestone, and then take several overall pictures of the Cemetery for perspective. There have been so many independent studies that have been fraught with understandable errors, that having photographic evidence is invaluable in defending your data and for consulting when you confidence

begins flagging. Also, handwritten notes are notoriously hard to read when you are doing all the work and recording too. (camera, flash, extra film, extra batteries, tripod, light meter.)

10. Tape Measure: Its a good idea to get the dimensions of the cemetery (if its small) and to measure the position of the gravestones. This will help in finding "missing" gravestones as you work and will be the basis for later "finds".

11. Best of all possible worlds for small family cemeteries is topin-point their location with a GPS receiver. This device connects with the military Geo Positioning Satellite (GPS) system and provides, for all practical purposes, an exact longitude and latitude position on the planet of your location, e.g. the cemetery, so that it can be easily located. A good Topographic Map (available through the Coast and Geodetic Survey) will also give good results in determining longitude and latitude location of

the cemetery. Is this overkill? - I think not. With the rapidity of development, familiar landmarks, roads, buildings, etc., that have been there for years can disappear overnight, or even be rerouted, making them
not only useless for your landmarks, but can actually make it far harder to find because it will have folks looking in the wrong place with the confidence that they are following directions that are in fact now
erroneous. GPS is relatively new today but will be as ubiquitous as a Walkman in the future (many new cars have talking GPS receivers on board and they are being widely used by realtors to find houses that are for sale).

12. If you have a friend with nothing to do for the day, particularly if that friend has a limitation that will not allow them to get involved in the hard work of clearing the cemetery, get them to come along - they tend to be invaluable in keeping good notes, and quietly poking about and finding things that in your frenzy of accomplishing the clearing, you would have missed completely. Believe me, this works wonderfully. If someone other than yourself is taking notes, review progress of the note taking to ensure you understand how the notes are being taken. Everyone uses a different mental template and you may not be able to reconstruct what is clear to your note taker but not to you.

13. If you have access to a four wheel drive vehicle, bring it. Also, bring along a bunch of heavy rope. Anytime you take rope anywhere, make sure you bring a "Come-a-long" or "Portable Mule". You will find a good use for it, believe me. These items are invaluable in ensuring that a tree falls where you want it too, should you have to cut one down, or for pulling a mess of briars or fallen brush out of the cemetery.

14. FIRST AID KIT: essential item.

15. Water!!!

16. Type up your notes no later than the next day so your memory of what you saw is fresh and sharp.

17. Finally, make sure you get permission to enter the property, and leave it cleaner than when you arrived. Before you walk away, look over the area to make sure you are not leaving anything - especially paper, cans or other trash.

(c) Sep 12, 1999



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