Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cemetery Cleaning Kit

Have you ever thought you'd like to go to a cemetery and clean up your family plot? Or for an even bigger job, clean up a cemetery? What tools would you take? How would you try to plan for every conceivable circumstance you might encounter? Recently there were a few of us online discussing these very earth shattering thoughts! [Ok, we're genealogists, we talk about this stuff!] By the time everyone was done throwing their ideas into the bucket it was decided that I should photograph my orange bucket and its contents. You see, I use an orange bucket for a reason...oh, look at that headstone over there...oh, wow, did you see that stone, how unique [wandering even further], oh, wait there's George's headstone [the reason I came to the cemetery], but where did I leave my bucket? Way over there! Yes, I've been known to wander off and leave my valuable bucket, but it glows, so it's pretty easy to spot from a distance. [Can you guess which side of the family my son's ADD comes from?] So here is my bucket and it's contents for today [cause tomorrow my hubby will add more to it]. We used it this last weekend at a cemetery that is very over grown and not kept up. From that experience my husband is now scouting for one of those portable shovels that will fold up and fit in the bucket.
As you can see the bucket appears pretty full, but it's very light to bring along with me.
Contents of my bucket include:
Roll of paper towels
Soft bristle brush
Large spray bottle (already filled before leaving home)
Plastic bags (to hold used paper towels, or wet scrub brushes)
Plastic tub with lid (used to make mud when needed)
Gloves with leather palm
Old toothbrushes
Old steak knife
Old hand towel (used for all sorts of odd jobs)
Bandana (cause you need one sometimes)
Additionally: Take at least an extra gallon or two of water.

There are a number of items you should take with you on a cemetery cleaning adventure. But, before you leave home there is some prep work to do.
Maps: never depend on GPS, many times I don't have a signal to get me where I want to go. Print out a map and you might even go so far as to view the site you are visiting through Google Earth mapping so you can really see the lay of the land. If you are an AAA member get a copy of a map for that area as well as the guide for that state.

Camera: make sure that you are taking fully charged batteries with you.

Umbrella: take a large golf umbrella. Sometimes the sun is just in the wrong place and you need to shade the stone to get a good photo. Alternately, sometimes you need to brighten one side of a stone and the white paper towels do that well. Or you can purchase a light reflector for that job.

Take plenty of drinking water and snacks to keep you going.

Cemetery: make a list of who you expect to find buried in each cemetery. Take along a writing tablet to make notes of hard to read headstones.

Wear long pants and good shoes. Many cemeteries are well kept, the ones I was in last weekend were back to nature walks where the ground squirrels live. Sturdy shoes are a must to keep from getting hurt. Pants keep the ticks off. 'Nuff said.

Put on your sun screen and bug spray, once you leave home washing hands to do this will become difficult at best.

When you arrive at the cemetery take a good photo of the entrance. You might even go so far as to video the area to help your memory if you wait too long after returning home.

Find your family plot and access the situation. If the cemetery is well cared for you can go to cleaning stones. If it isn't, you will go to trimming vegetation and trying to get the plot cleaned up. BEWARE of the ground. Look for hornets nests or ground squirrel encampments [they make the ground hard to walk on.] You might go so far as to take spray for hornets/bees/bugs with you as well.

When the stones are all cleaned up I hope you take a photo for FindAGrave and if you have an iPhone or Android that you'll take one for BillionGraves as well.

If you want to learn more about preservation and cleaning of headstones you might visit CyndisList and see what she has to help you learn more.

This last weekend we laid another to rest. Of course each headstone in five different plots was taken back from nature. Each was cleaned and photographed for both FindAGrave and BillionGraves. The mud was used to help me read the last inscription on a stone that someone had repainted 2 of 3 names on. "Harriet S. His Wife 1854-1931" was now recorded in the Crispin plot. We were at Evergreen Cemetery in Manchester, Mendocino County, California.


  1. Those silver reflectors you put in the windshield of your car in the summer work great for reflecting light on a stone. Thanks for sharing your cemetery "bucket list." :-)

  2. Leslie,

    I have just added an item to my Cemetery Kit, that I don't think you mentioned. That is a surgical mask, or some air filter mask for those with issues about dust and mold that may become airborne during the cleaning process.

    Great Article.

    I use a photo reflector, circle, like the reflector Cathi mentioned.

    Bug Spray, is a must for me.

    I will have to update My "bucket list". Thank you.


    1. Russ,
      Thank you for stopping by. A dust mask of some sort might be useful to those who are very sensitive. I find that keeping the stone wet I don't have any trouble with dust and mold. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Hey Leslie - looking forward to creating something like this for my next trip to Franklin County Illinois. Thank you.

    1. Debbie,
      I'm glad you found it useful. That was the goal, after all! And good additions in the comments as well.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. I love this! When I started reading I was thinking - "Meh, I have a white bucket already hanging around, I'd just use that." But I think cemetery wandry-ness makes me love the orange idea! Thanks for sharing the list and for the additional comments/suggestions. :)

  5. I'm fairly new to cemetery stomping! I have already put together a sparse pile of things I figured out that I would need. This list and that amazing orange bucket are great! Thanks for the lesson.

    1. Lynne,
      I'm glad you found the list useful! There always seems to be one more item to stuff in the bucket! Thank you for stopping by.

  6. A mirror is a must for reading stones without harming them. Reflect sunlight sideways across the stone and it is unbelievable how the inscription pops out. If it is too sunny out, use the umbrella to shade the stone. If too cloudy use a strong flashlight across the stone.

    Best wishes!

    1. A mirror is great if you can take one with you safely. Perhaps you missed the point of the white paper towels, or the reflective sun visor both as points of shining more light on a stone? Both of these items are definitely safer to haul the distances I personally travel to do this work. If you practice with the above methods you'll find the same results without the worry of hauling and potentially breaking, a mirror.

      Thanks for commenting.

  7. I'm glad I found this blog post before I went cemetery stomping. I would have been disappointed with no hand trowel to dig down in front of some partial buried headstones. Thanks for the wonderful advice.


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