How To Take Pictures of Tombstones (Updated)

Pictures of tombstones are a wonderful because they preserve the info indefinitely. Tombstones are worn away a bit each and every day and eventually become unreadable or even destroyed. I volunteer for FindaGrave.com and visit local cemeteries as often as time/weather permit. You should try it. It gets you out and about for a bit of fresh air and exercise as well as helping other genealogists that live across the country and cannot visit their families graves. When I go I try to canvas an entire cemetery instead of just those that I am looking for. Usually a lot of the pics have already been taken so you only need to work on those that aren’t added already or don’t have pics.

Here are some tips:

  1. Plan the time-of-day you will visit. You don’t want the sun shining in your camera – behind or overhead is best. The direction that most of the graves face is also a factor.
  2. Things to take with you:
    1. Smartphone with FindaGrave App.
    2. Whisk broom for sweeping off pebbles, leaves and the like.
    3. Small shears for cutting back grass from edges.
    4. Gloves if you like.
    5. Hat or sunshade.
    6. Sunscreen if needed.
    7. Large sheets of paper for making rubbings – only if allowed.
    8. Chalk for rubbing on top of the paper – only if allowed. Some graves are crumbly and even this method can damage them. It is wise to get permission.
  3. Be careful!
    1. Some cemeteries are a bit ‘squishy’. I try not to walk on the actual graves if possible.
    2. Here in Georgia there are wild pigs in the woods and one must always be on the lookout.
    3. Leaves make good hiding places for snakes so if there are a lot of leaves you will want to come back in the winter or with a leaf blower.
  4. Plan! Take an overall look at the cemetery and make a plan. Start in a corner and work your way around. Many times I have had to stop working and it is nice when you can return and start right where you left off.
  5. Taking pictures:
    1. Clean up by trimming any grass, removing gravel, etc. Be careful not to remove any rocks/pebbles that were intensionally placed. Many people leave a pebble when they visit.
    2. Set any flowers that obscure writing to the side – be sure to replace them exactly as they were!
    3. Get as close as you can to the tombstone or zoom in. You want to get a good clear shot so that the entire tombstone is in the picture. Remember those family pics where the head was cut off in the pic? Same thing applies here. People want to see the entire tombstone. If the writing isn’t close enough then take another close-up shot of just the writing. If there is a plot or a family plot it is nice to take a pic of that too.
    4. Squat down so that you are level with the writing.
    5. If one person is still living you can protect their privacy by only taking a pic of the deceased person’s half.
    6. If a tombstone is illegible and you have permission, make a rubbing.
    7. Make note of husband/wife/family names so that you can link them up later. Also note anything of interest. If a tombstone is hard to read, write the info down.
  6. If you leave before you are finished make a note of your stopping place. Usually the names of the graves on either side suffice but noting large trees, bushes, etc. help too.

Happy hunting!

Update: FindaGrave also has some info on the subject on their FAQs page see the Cemetery Preservation links.

Here is a link to what looks like a great book on the subject at Google Books.

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