Monday, October 11, 2010

Essential Items for a Graveyard Hopping Kit

I love graveyard hopping, but I am by no means a pro.  My daughter and I often come across situations where we wish we had some sort of tool to make our tombstone searching easier.  This stone at right, for instance, had been completely covered over with grass and weeds.  This picture was taken after several minutes of two of us tugging and ripping at the weeds with our hands - and we still didn't get the entire stone uncovered!

We've thought of making up some kind of kit that we leave in the car, so we'll have the tools we might need when we're at a cemetery.  Here are a few of the items we think would come in handy.  We'd love to know what kind of things you bring to the cemetery, and why you bring them!  We're considering:
  • a canvas tool bag to keep everything in
  • grass clippers (probably just hand clippers - not electric)
  • a camera (we always bring that anyway)
  • extra batteries for the camera
  • a kneeling pad
  • a notebook
  • pens or pencils (more than one)
  • an edging tool (I'm questioning this one - I'm not sure how it would look if you were "digging" around with an edging tool.  Would people object?) 
  • In certain circumstances we could've used a loppers - but again, I don't know if it's acceptable to take one into a graveyard and start lopping away at the brush to get to the tombstones!
  • a spray bottle of water
  • a sponge or a very soft brush
Have you ever had someone question what you're doing as you're cleaning off headstones?
I'd love to hear some of your ideas for a graveyard-hopping tool kit ideas.  What do you bring with you to a cemetery?  What other things have you found you've needed?  Do you keep a kit in the car?  What tools should a graveyard rabbit have?

(Here are a couple where a loppers would've come in handy....)


  1. I love that your post coincides with exactly what I am writing about today! I am teaching an online course for Family Tree University about cemetery research.

    I have a kit based on Sharon DeBartolo Carmack's book. Here a photo:

    I try never to "dig" in the graveyard without permission from whoever oversees the burying ground. It might be that the city or town needs to be notified if you want to use "tools".

    Great post!


  2. Oooh - I love the picture of your kit, Midge! Lots of great ideas.

    And stupidly, although I have the Sharon DeBartolo Carmack book for sale over in the right nav bar, I hadn't gotten it for myself yet. I just rectified that!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. One of the other bloggers (sorry, I know it's one of two people, but I don't remember which one!) includes a dry erase board and marker. You can write the inscription on it (for those hard to see inscriptions). Take one photo of the stone with the dry erase board and one without. At least when you get home, you know which marker it was supposed to be.

  4. That's a good idea too! Just tonight I've looked at photos of two stones that I can't read the inscriptions on. Thanks!

  5. Yes, people will question you if you walk into a graveyard with a few shovels or a chainsaw or a huge overfull garbage bag or something, but from my experience, people understand that if you are going to an ungroomed section of a cemetery, it's necessary to bring some gear with you, even if it's just for a non-photographic visit

    You might get some looks, but people quickly get the idea when they get a closer look and most will respectfully try to ignore you

    Unless of course you happen to be digging in one of their relatives graves, in which case you should also bring a witness our two with you

  6. Also, this might sound strange, but a cheap dollar store toilet brush can go a long way with a bottle of plain water for cleaning then off, and the brushes last a long time

  7. A trowel is a good addition - there are cemeteries and have-been cemeteries that no one cares for, where a little digging is certainly excusable.

  8. I just discovered your blog through a genealogy newsletter and I'm surprised to find I'm not as alone as I thought I was in cemetery hopping!

    While these aren't necessarily tools for cleaning up gravesites, I have found it absolutely necessary to keep sunglasses, water and a snack with me as well. Maybe bug spray depending on the place and the season!

    I don't usually end up cleaning off too many headstones, but I did pique someone's curiosity once while recording information from gravestones at a small cemetery in the town I grew up in. I was just mapping it out as part of a thesis I was writing, but this older couple admitted they thought I was working for whoever owned the cemetery, determining "who stays or who goes"! Strange.


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