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It is a wonderful way to learn about history.
There are some basic rules you should follow and some tools you need to get started.


If you plan on doing rubbings of your family or relatives then some of these won't apply.
I like to rub very old tombstones. They have a certain charm about them.

1. Many cemeteries are private property. Be sure and ask before you start rubbing tombstones. Trespassing fines are not cheap. 
Many do not understand what  rubbing is or have ever heard of it. 
2. Treat each tombstone as if it were your own mother's. Somebody loves these people and old tombstones can be delicate. 
3. Make sure and clean off all marks accidently left on tombstones. Leave the cemetery cleaner than when you got there. 
4. If it is a private cemetery or a municipal cemetery, don't rub at night. Your actions will most certainly be mistaken by local law officials.
1.  A soft brush. The kind you might use to polish your shoes work well. A tooth brush is also a good thing to bring. 
2.  Paper, White or rice paper works best. I like rice paper. It has a really nice feel to it and can be surprisingly strong. 
3.  Black or gray chalk. I like chalk, it can be messy but if you're careful it makes a very  nice texture. Flat black crayons and rubbing wax are the most common.
4.  Scissors or exacto knife. 
5.  Masking tape or painters tape 
6.  Small spray bottle and a soft absorbent rag. 
7.  If you use chalk you will need Chalk spray. Krylon makes the best.³
Once you have found a nice tombstone you need to make sure it is clean. Use the soft brush and remove dirt and debris from the surface. Be gentle, and respectful, if the it looks as if you might scratch the tombstone then move on.

After you get most of the dirt off spray it with the bottle and then wipe with the rag. Let the tombstone become perfectly dry before you go on. Cut the paper larger than the tombstone itself and wrap tightly around the stone. Tape it very securely so that it doesn't move, if the paper moves when you start rubbing you will probably have to start over.

Start rubbing on the outside edges and make yourself a frame of sorts. You don't need to rub real hard, you can always make it darker by going back over it but you can never make it lighter. You should start to see the patterns emerging at this point.

Once you have the darkness down to your liking carefully spray the paper down with the Chalk spray. Be careful not to get any on the tombstone. When it is dry you can remove it and trim it in the shape of the stone or leave a border around it. This is all there is to it. Practice with it and develop your own style.

Remember the respect you show now will ensure that tombstone rubbing will always
be looked at as a way to preserve history and not as vandalism.

Rice paper is recommended but Butcher paper is a cheaper substitute. Smooth surfaces work
much better than grainy ones, though you may decide otherwise.
In my experience, chalk was a bit messy. Other contributors suggested using charcoal.
³There's an alternative to Krylon and that is hairspray -- "the cheapest you can find".

More Notes and Help!

Hi, May I respectfully make some suggestions for addtions?
1. In the spray bottle, the specification that it should contain only water
and not detergent or chemicals of any kind would eliminate the horrible
possibility that the Ivory [or other] soap mixture will do damage and
further erode the stone's material. Carry a mirror for better lighting contrast.
Rubbing is not always neccessary to capture the image and there are some
newer techniques such as dabbing and foiling. Better that this is left on the stone.
Unfortunately that hasn't been the case and now our family is trying
to delicately preserve what is left.
Thank you for the opportunity for sharing these thoughts.
For more Info: Pat Dupes-Matsumoto

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Dating Tombstones

One way to help find the era your ancestor was buried is to examine the material from which the tombstone is made. If your ancestor has a stone made of slate or common fieldstone (except wood used by pioneers), chances are the stone dates from 1796-1830.

* If the stone is flat-topped hard marble, dates are about 1830-1849.

* If the "mystery" stone is round or pointed soft marble with cursive inscriptions, look for a date of 1845-1868.

* Masonic four-sided stones began in 1850 and are still in use today.

* Pylons, columns and all exotic-style monuments are usually dated 1860-1900.

* Zinc monuments date from 1870-1900.

* Granite, now common, came into use about 1900.

If the writing is too faded to read, use a 75 watt black light bulb in any lamp that casts light directly on the written message. The writing will miraculously appear.

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Jefferson Davis
Hollywood Cemetery
Richmond, Virginia

Jefferson Davis
At Rest
An American Soldier
And Defender of the Constitution

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