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Time to Remember

Family history buffs often visit cemeteries just to retrace the final spot where their ancestors lived and worked. We take a picture of our loved one's head stone and as we leave, there is a feeling of emptiness to know we were not able to do more. After all, if it was not for them, we would not be here. But maybe there is something we could do; here are a few ideas.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Priscilla Harden
Word Count: 939 (approx.)
Labels: Death Record 
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Family history buffs often visit cemeteries just to retrace the final spot where their ancestors lived and worked. We take a picture of our loved one's head stone and as we leave, there is a feeling of emptiness to know we were not able to do more. After all, if it was not for them, we would not be here. But maybe there is something we could do; here are a few ideas.
  1. Place a solar memorial light beside your ancestors head stone
  2. If you ancestor served our country, put an American Flag beside their stone.
  3. Restore or clean your ancestor's stone.
  4. Take a rubbing of your ancestor's stone.
Putting a solar memorial light beside your ancestor's head stone will light your ancestor's stone each night. There is no wiring, and all you need to do is push the mounting piece in the ground and you are finished. There are several styles, and several companies who make them which can be found on the internet. EBay is another good place to find them. Select a special day to bring the solar memorial light, maybe their birthday, or maybe during a family get together or reunion. Make it a family event. If the Cemetery does not allow anything around the head stone, most cemeteries do allow a vase for flowers. Put the solar light inside of the vase. Flowers could still be put into the vase with no problems.

If your ancestor did serve our country, put an American flag beside their stone. A good size would be 11 ½" X 16 ½ ". And again, if there are regulations which do not allow a flag, then just put it in the Vase beside the stone. There will still be room for flowers. If you are able to display a flag next to your ancestor's stone, then also think about putting a solar spot light near the flag, as this would also allow your ancestors flag to be light every night.

Tombstone rubbing is a very old form of art which actually dates back to ancient Egyptians. Egyptians carved stories, songs and even prayers into tombs of their loved ones using hieroglyphics. In more recent times, before the invention of cameras, Europeans would make tombstone rubbings of their loved ones and take them with them as they immigrated to this country. Often times the immigrants did not visit their homeland, so taking a rubbing would help them feel that they were not leaving those bygone loved ones behind. In America, tombstone rubbings, or gravestone rubbings, which it is also called, was common among pioneers moving west for a new start in life. Like the new immigrants, the pioneers moving west in covered wagon trains would also take remembrances of their loved ones with them. More recently, with the explosion of interest in researching family history, the art of tombstone rubbings has also become popular again today. Despite the invention of digital cameras, which take good pictures of headstones, tombstone rubbings preserve historical information which is quickly deteriorating with time. By taking a rubbing, valuable information which is no longer readable can suddenly be brought back to life with rubbings.

Even though tombstone rubbings are a form of art, each one of us as a child has actually has done this type of art. Remember taking a leaf and putting a piece of paper on it and then taking the side of our crayon and rubbing it on the paper to get an imprint of the leaf? These steps are basically the same steps necessary to make a tombstone rubbing. With tombstone rubbings, you are preserving history, and possibly even learning a little more about your ancestor buried below the tombstone before it is lost forever due to time and weathering.

Today there are restrictions in some cemeteries which do not allow you to do tombstone rubbings, so check with the cemetery superintendent, or the city codes on this matter before you start. You might even need a permit to do it.

There are three different types of media which you can choose from to do your rubbings: crayons, charcoal, and chalk. You will have to try to find out what works best for you. But one rule of thumb would be to use crayons on engraved stones, like the more recent ones, and to use charcoal on raised lettering on headstones. If you are using crayons, try using the large ones like children use, which have broad sides. But if you are using crayons, it is a good idea not to do it during the summer months as this will make the crayons melt. You will not get a good rubbing and possibly even damage the headstone with the crayons. Also, expect to do more than one rubbing on the headstone. The first one may not be what you are expecting it to look like. And always take a picture of the headstone with your camera before you leave. There are several web sites which give step by step instructions on how to do tombstone rubbings. It does not take a lot of skill, and only a few materials. Here are a few sites which are a good source for instructions:

The Association for Gravestone Studies is an excellent place to get great information on tombstone rubbings as well as restoring old headstones. This site is also excellent place for ideas in keeping a newer headstone clean and free from weathering. If you are interested in history, The Association for Gravestone Studies might interest you. This association does have a lending library, conferences, archives, and other information available to members. On the web, their site is:

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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