How to help with Cemetery Preservation

Preservation of cemeteries is one of the chief purposes of this site. If we think of a cemetery as an outdoor museum, filled with art and history, than it is as much a mark of civilized society as is an indoor museum.

In some cases, a burial spot may be an abandoned cemetery, when the owners of the property have left the area, and the property is no longer the responsibility of anyone.

Certainly, respecting the dead and protecting the memory of the past is an important part of our heritage. Cemeteries are one of the most important links to that past.

The best way to protect a cemetery is to learn what not to do. Remember, many cemeteries are on private land, and that the markers are not owned by the cemetery, but the private property of the family.

  • Do NOT use commercial cleaning solutions or chemicals on gravestones.
  • Do NOT move stones or remove stone fragments.
  • Do NOT use shaving cream on stones.
  • Do NOT stand on stones.
  • Do NOT attempt to make rubbings on unstable or soft stone, or deeply carved stones.
  • Do NOT make a rubbing using paper that is light-weight, (so the wax or ink bleeds-through).
  • Do NOT attempt to remove lichens or other biological growth.
  • Do NOT use wire brushes on stones.


    The preservation of a cemetery begins with documenting its current state. Documentation provides a record of the cemetery that may be the key to repairing and diagnosing the cemetery's overall health.

    Documenting a cemetery includes making note of each stone, including the type of monument and the material. All the inscriptions should be recorded, and photos should be taken.

    Other things to include in the data collected are notations of previous repairs or restoration attempts.

    If possible, a map should be made of the cemetery, especially if the cemetery is not recorded in any official fashion.

    Cemeteries are also often home to historic plants. These plants should be recorded in a preservation survey. Admittedly, I'm not an expert in horticulture, but, people with knowledge of heritage varieties of roses, trees and shrubs should be able to assist.

    Broken stones should be noted as well. Some markers may be beyond repair, but, all fragments should be noted.

    Hazards and Obstacles

    In your documentation, note things like monuments that are in danger of falling. These are of immediate concern, as they pose a threat to visitors and other markers and plants.

    Always be cautious of markers. Sometimes a stone which looks perfectly safe on the outside may've developed a soft spot or internal weakness. Marble, sandstone and limestone are especially susceptible to this problem.

    Markers can also be loose from their bases. You might discover that leaning or putting a small bit of weight on a marker might cause it to shift. It's best not to stand or lean on headstones. Remember, they stones are heavier than they appear, and can cause great damage if they fall.

    Gravestone rubbings are often seen as a way to preserve a stone's inscription, however, carelessness can lead to further damage to the stone. Ask permission before making a rubbing, and know the proper method to make a rubbing so as not to cause permanent damage.

    Also be aware and document things like biological obstacles. A wasp may've established a nest under an unsuspecting table tomb, or snakes may've burrowed under a corner of a monument. Be aware of these types of dangers.

    Some preservation obstacles are less obvious. Sometimes a tree will have grown up right around a stone. This poses an interesting preservation dilemma: The tree or the marker?

    Other Benefits

    A well-maintained cemetery is often a deterrent to vandalism. It helps to indicate that someone is caring for the graveyard to discourage further damage.

    Even more than that, an attractive cemetery invites people to visit on a regular basis, which helps to promote awareness of the cemetery in general. People who are active in a cemetery can help to maintain it.

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