Genealogists can learn a lot from a visit to a graveyard. There is a plethora of information that can be found on a gravestone. You can learn an ancestor’s birth date, death date, surname (sometimes including maiden name) and even a little bit about their personality and interests. It is easy to see why genealogists want to make a record of what is on a particular gravestone. Here are some tips to help you record a gravestone without damaging it.
Find a Photo
Before you head out to explore a graveyard, it might be a good idea to check out Find A Grave first. You can search 121 million grave records. Many of these records include photos of gravestones. There is a link on the front of their website called “New Photos” that will show you the latest ones. Find your ancestor’s grave there, and you can assuredly view the information without causing any damage at all to the gravestone itself.
Take a Photo
For best results, you should visit the graveyard in the Spring or Summer on a bright, sunny, day and arrive around noon. This is when you are most likely to have good lighting for your photos. Days that are overcast or cloudy are not going to provide very good light. Obviously, the better the light the easier it will be to see the details on a gravestone that you have photographed.
Another option that can help improve the lighting for your photo is a mirror. Use the mirror to cast more light onto the gravestone that you want to take a photo of. This is going to involve some “trial and error” and you may need to move the mirror around a bit before you get good results. You cannot possibly cause damage to a gravestone by reflecting extra light at it before taking a photo.
Write it Down
What if you are unable to take a photo of the grave? Maybe you forgot your camera and your smartphone has run out of “juice”. You can record the information you see on a gravestone the “old fashioned way”. Get a pen and write the information down on a piece of paper. Some genealogists prefer this method because they find it easier than trying to get the photo they took out of their phone and onto the internet.
What kind of information should you note? Obviously, you should write down the persons name, birth date, and death date. In addition, it can be helpful to note epitaphs that indicate a familial relationship such as “Beloved Wife and Mother”.
It is also a good idea to sketch out a drawing of the symbols that appear on the grave. Each symbol holds specific meaning that can tell you more about the person. Fraternal organizations, religious symbols, and symbols of plants and animals can reveal interesting things about your ancestor.
Image by Allen Watkin on Flickr.
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