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Old 03-26-2012, 09:57 AM
LeeWhatley LeeWhatley is offline
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Location: Carmarthen
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Default Cleaning Gravestones

I'm wanting to take photos and record the inscriptions of the graves in our local church, I've taken a look around the graveyard and have seen that a few of the headstones are either overgrown or dirty.

Could I trim back any ivy/weeds which are on the headstones or approaching them?

Could I use water and soft brush to clean the headstones to make them readable?

Would I need to get permission from the vicar to do this and what are the potential pitfalls?
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Whatley, Hinkin, Ware
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Old 03-26-2012, 11:03 AM
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FamilyHistoryAddict FamilyHistoryAddict is offline
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Location: Nelson's County
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Your Family Tree have carried several articles on Gravestone Cleaning. You can consult the article index to find out which issue.

Meanwhile there's this:


Cheers, FHA
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Old 03-26-2012, 11:34 AM
Peakoverload Peakoverload is offline
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: West Sussex
Posts: 80

I don't have any definitive answers but I'd just say that I would be cautious about cleaning a grave of anyone that wasn't a relative of me personally. Whilst the removing of weeds is unlikely to cause offense, the cleaning of the headstone may in some circumstances especially if any damage occurred, what to one person is cleaning to the other could mean damage.

On the topic of damage, some headstones are less than stable and can be accidentally knocked down. Not only can this cause older stones to break, with todays stupid health & safety laws it often means that the local council or vicar cannot lift them back up.

Also be aware that some lichens, often found on headstones, are protected and should not be removed. Unless you really know your lichens it's probably safer to leave alone.

Basically I would say that removing or grass and weeds (as long as done respectfully i.e. not ripping up huge chunks of earth and grass) would be fine. Cleaning of headstones though I would say you would be best not to. If you want to be able to read the inscriptions better then you can spray on water to darken letters but also take a mirror with you and use it to reflect sunlight onto the headstone. This is far better than using a torch which is in many ways counter productive.

If you have a camera and a copy of Photoshop there is another tip that sometimes can help and that is to 'fake' a kind of infrared photo.

Take a close up photo of the inscription, the closer the better - if need be take several photos to cover the entire inscription
Open the photo in photoshop
Add a Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer
Check the Monochrome tick box to convert it to Black & White
Using the sliders adjust the Red, Blue, Green until the lettering becomes more readable. By using extreme values like -200 Blue +100 Red + 200 Green (basically just move the sliders around as the values will vary from stone to stone) you can really make difficult text easier to read. It's not a miracle though, if lettering is completely missing or completely obscured by moss it won't suddenly make them visible but if there is any form of outline left it can help to make it readable. Best of all it does no damage at all to the headstone and requires no permission.
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Old 03-27-2012, 11:08 AM
PeterColli PeterColli is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2011
Location: Selby, Yorkshire, England
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Default Cleaning gravestones

I'd be very cautious of doing anything around a gravestone that isn't a family member - see previous response.

One thing to watch for when taking photographs is the time of day. You may find that the angle of the sun can throw lettering into sharper relief, so visit the grave at different times of the day to see if different lighting might improve the readability.
Also, a visit after rain when the stones are wet may also help.

Photoshop or similar software programs can help with skilful manipulation.

Last edited by PeterColli; 03-29-2012 at 08:24 AM.
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Old 03-27-2012, 06:23 PM
LeeWhatley LeeWhatley is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Carmarthen
Posts: 12

Thanks to everyone who has replied, I have taken a look at the video that FamilyHistoryAddict linked to and found it very interesting and informative.

I have however considered the possible damage I could do (would risk it for gravestone of family members) to the gravestones so think I will in the first instance just map out the graveyard and search out the gravestones that are already in a poor condition and capture as much information as I can before their condition deteriorates further.

I will speak to the vicar about the overgrown headstones to discover if it is simply down to lack of time/funds to clear them or some other reason - it never occurred to me that they could be in this condition for a good reason.
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Whatley, Hinkin, Ware
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Old 03-28-2012, 05:16 PM
Sue Sandy Sue Sandy is offline
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Join Date: May 2007
Location: Kent UK
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Hello Lee,

You might find this article of interest ;


Searching - Vowden; Down; Gowman (Devon/Cornwall): Morrison; Houseman; Windsor; Mazzalini; King (London).
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Old 03-29-2012, 06:41 AM
Guy Guy is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Posts: 1,648

As many gravestones have been lost through people cleaning them as have been vandalised.
Unless you know what you are doing please leave them alone.

Soft stones such as sandstones can be destroyed within a year by someone washing with detergent and water.
The detergent removes the protective layer that builds up over time allowing mosture to penetrate the stone a sharp frost then causes the face of the stone to spall (bubble away from the body of the stone) result no inscription.
Removing plants such as ivy could pull the face off the gravestone and later may allow the wind to blow sharp sand and grit on the stones grinding the surface away.
If the stone is covered with protected specis of lichen it is illegal to remove the lichen.

If a stone is buried under grass if the grass is removed to read the stone, replace it to protect the stone for later generations.

I have visited graveyards where stones have been stained through people using flour and talcum powders to read the stones.
Please do not do it.

If you must use something to read a stone a light spary of pure water may help, as will using light and shade.

If the memorial had an inscription made up of lead lettering it may still be possible to read the inscription by the holes used to mount the letters on the stone.


Tread lightly in a graveyard, leave only a message in the visitor's book to show you were ever there.
http://freespace.virgin.net/guy.etchells/ The site that gives you facts not promises
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Old 03-29-2012, 06:15 PM
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TracyD TracyD is offline
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Location: Poole, Dorset
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I admit I have occasionally used fresh water and a soft brush to clean headstones if they have bird droppings or loose algae etc, but I would never ever scrap away at them with an ice scraper as shown in the video link above

Having asked a local stone mason about cleaning plants such as ivy from headstones, he recommended that if the plant does not come away EASILY then to leave it alone - but cut through the stem close to the ground with a pair of nail scissors and this will allow the vine to die without access to water from the ground.

After several weeks you should then be able to gently pull away the vine from the stone once it has turned brown and shrivelled up. This should allow you to read some of the text - although he told me that removing all the ivy is not advisable as while growing it may have broken down the surface of the stone and pulling it all off may pull away the surface of the stone, so be careful when doing this!

One way I have found to read text which appears to be unreadable is to take a sheet of baking foil, hold it against the stone and gently run your hand over it, or use a soft paint brush to press the foil into the lettering. It is amazing how well this works!

As far as the link to the BBC news page regarding Tendagrave is concerned, although I am a volunteer on it, but cannot help wondering if many well meaning volunteers will do more harm than good in their enthusiasm to help other people.

Researching:- FINLAY - Aberdeen & Glasgow, McKAY & THOMSON - Glasgow, COAT/E/S - Dorset, SHEARING - Dorset, WITT - Southampton, WILKINS - Devizes, Wiltshire & Southampton, Hampshire.

Genealogy - Chasing your own tale!
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