BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING AT THE CEMETERY - LOOK
IT OVER CAREFULLY FOR POISON
- IVY OR POISON OAK. THIS STUFF WILL RUIN YOUR WHOLE DAY.
- 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
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
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
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
- and THE best way is to fill the inscription letters with a bright
- temporary, non-damaging material that will bring out the inscription
- that it nearly shouts at you - this is done using ordinary canned
- cream to fill the letters, and a squeegee to remove excess shaving
- from the flat surface - leaving the letters VERY clear and highly
- 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
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
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
- 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
- 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.
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