Surveying a cemetery and transcribing the gravestones is not as difficult as it was just a few years ago. My first cemetery survey was only finished after several jaunts to the cemetery, painstakingly handwriting the inscriptions from each gravestone, and later struggling to decipher my scribbling. Now, when I survey a cemetery, I take digital photos of each gravestone and transcribe the inscriptions from the photos — enlarging, darkening or lightening to clarify — by entering the information into a document. My preference is to alphabetize the survey listing while also indicating if two people share the same marker (e.g., husband and wife). With an alphabetical listing, indicating two people have the same marker can be quite helpful to researchers in identifying members of the same family. I include pertinent birth, death, marriage and military information as well as any family notations (e.g., brother, father, uncle). When surveying a small cemetery, I include complete epitaphs and a listing of the gravestone inscriptions in order, in addition to an alphabetical listing. Then I make a final trip back to the cemetery and "walk the rows" checking to ensure I didn't skip a grave, make any corrections and, voila, e-mail the completed survey to the historical society web site manager.
If you decide you may want to consider volunteering your time to survey a cemetery, the U.S. GenWeb Tombstone Transcription Project web site provides a plethora of information and is a must read: http://www.rootsweb.com/~cemetery/#poem.
And, following are a few caveats for the novice cemetery surveyor:
- Ask permission from the appropriate person/church, etc. before beginning a cemetery survey.
- Digital photos are a wonderful resource for use in transcribing gravestone inscriptions, but for privacy (and possibly legal) reasons, delete gravestone photos when you've completed the cemetery survey.
- Be respectful of the cemetery and the gravestones. Use only water in a spray bottle and a very soft cloth/brush to clean a gravestone for reading—other materials could cause damage, particularly to older stones.
A FINAL NOTE: After discovering some years ago that the cemetery in which two sets of my great-grandparents were buried — 20 miles from my home — was not online, I made the decision to survey that one cemetery and thought that would be the end of it. It was hot, dirty, time-consuming hard work, and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT! Now, eight years later, my 15th cemetery survey is just finished, and there's always one more waiting. . . .