14 August 2014

Please, Please, Please treat cemeteries and tombstones with respect!

A resource for Gravestone Preservation
Unfortunately, the news tells us the tale of a person wanting to do good and instead doing incredible harm.  This is a common tale.  We are all ignorant of much!  It’s important, especially when there is a chance of harm, to do our homework, and then proceed with care and respect.

Michael J Leclerc’s blog post Danger in the Graveyard talks about the original tragic story involving a Tennessee cemetery and then discusses all the techniques NOT to be used on tombstones to make them more legible!  Basically, anything beyond water (or under the guidance of an expert on Graveyard preservation) is a NO NO! 

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has a useful Cemetery Preservation page with links to some helpful resources.  It starts out by saying “There are no state laws that describe the techniques for preservation of cemeteries and gravestones, but there are best practices and standards to meet to assure that you are preserving the site in a way that will not eventually lead to damage.”  This is true for many states. 

Another element of this story is that this individual did NOT have the permission of the church to which the cemetery belonged to with regards to taking photos.  The Legal Genealogist (Judy G Russell) has a great post Cemetery photos: permission required? where she discusses this topic in great depth.  Also, do read all the comments posted, there is a lot of neat dialog and information to be found.  I found that NC has many statutes that protect cemeteries as summarized on this North Carolina Office of State Archaeology page The North Caroline Cemetery Survey and Protective Legislation.  You might find similar statutes in your own state.

The perpetrators intent was to upload the images to Find a Grave.  Judy has another post Grave terms of use where she talks in detail about Find A Grave and BillionGraves, as two examples of crowdsourcing for tombstones and other death information.

We cannot know it all!  There is no question about that! A great benefit of the “web” is that we can educate ourselves before we take on any project. Sometimes that education is that what we want to accomplish is something we are NOT qualified to do or for which we don’t have the tools.  Rather than put a tombstone, building, landmark, etc., at risk – just STOP.  As we enjoy and cherish historical objects and sites, we want future generations to be able to share in the same experience.

It’s not like you would dive into doing electrical work without some training or under the supervision of an experienced professional.  Why would you think you know how to properly handle a historic tombstone?

Please do continue to have a passion for documenting tombstones for posterity.  We know that the elements and time will and have already taken a toll and that our efforts will help future generations see images and content from tombstones which may no longer exist.  And, let’s try to not to hasten the deterioration of these edifices honoring our ancestors in our enthusiasm.  Let’s do our homework on what is the proper and respectful care that the contents of cemeteries and graveyards deserve.

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