Recap: Planning to visit cemetery - What tools? #general

Michael Horowitz <mhorowit@...>

Good Morning all:

Several weeks ago I posted the following to the newsgroup:

I'm beginning to make plans for visiting the plots of both my grand
and great-grandmothers. One is buried at Beth David(Elmont) the other
at Mr. Carmel (new). My plan is to photograph and or do a rubbing of
the stone so (assuming it is written in hebrew) I can get it
translated when I return home.
Question 1. Photograph of site - What do i need to bring to get the
most readable image? any tricks to shooting ?

Question 2. Rubbings - Any trick to doing a rubbing? any problems if
the inscription is raised vice carved?

Question 3. It is a reasonable bet the next grave site over is a
spouse or other family memer. What other hints can someone more
experienced provide?
Here is a recap of the replies plus some additional information
I learned.

But before I do that ... . Only one person made the following
suggestion, but it has had such an emotional impact on me, I want
to discuss it first. "Don't forget a Memorial book and Yarmulkas
to say the Kaddish. You are doing a Mitzvah. And, of course,
stones to leave on the graves." Perhaps I have been too focused
on the analytical process, and perhaps it would have become apparent
that it was the right thing to do once I was at the grave site, but
the idea never entered my mind. Thank you B.A. >from LA for helping me

Material in quotes came >from others; my comments are not in quotes.

Question #1 delt with photography of headstones:

"I found photographing my tombstones, even those >from the 1920's,
to be very simple. They hardly looked worn at all.
The exception was a sandstone tombstons for an uncle of mine who
died at the age of 2. Apparently many baby's tombetones were
cheaper sandstone, which erodes relatively fast. The photo is no
worse than than being there, and neither were very legible.
I just used my point-and-shoot camera, and the photos are fine.
Of course, be close, and as "straight-on" as you can.

Make sure the sun is in back of your when you photograph. Take
the photo so that all the written words are in the viewfinder and
nothing else.

Make sure your camera is working properly. If you haven't used it
recently, expose and process a test roll. I take photos of the entire
headstone and a separate photo of the Hebrew portion. I also take
photos of nearby stones just in case they may end up being relatives.
I also take photos of the gates of the area where my ancestors are
buried. They usually provide information about the Landsmanshaften or
burial society. Also, go to the office and get as much information as
you can about the "caretaker"of the plot and the representative of the
burial society. Don't go on Sunday when everyone else is there.

Fill Frame. Bracket exposures, Off camera flash

If the carving is weathered, you might get a better picture if you
wet the stone. but putting anything other than water on it may damage
the stone, so things like sand or shaving cream are to be avoided.
(and it's probably a good idea to take a picture before you wet it,
in case the water makes it *less* legible.)

Try to take the picture when the sun is directly overhead but
slightly in front of the stone. If the stone faces north or south, a
good picture can also usually be taken in the early morning or late
afternoon if the sun is in front of the stone. DO NOT USE FLASH, the
lighting will be straight on and will eliminate all shadows, or, if
the stone is polished, you will get a glaring reflection of the flash.
The whole idea is simply to get as contrasting an image as possible
between the engraving and its shadow. I have also successfully
photograhed stones at night (eliminating all unwanted light sources)
using a flash that's removable >from the camera and placing it
in front of but to the side of the stone. For an example of night
photography, see: [invalid URL deleted--Mod.]"

***Whoa there partner!: saw a note somewhere warning folks to be careful
being in the cemetery after dark - folks may consider that

"Another BIG advantage of a photograph is that you can stare at it for
as many hours as you comfort. I have successfully
deciphered stones that appeared completely illegible by taking a photo
of it and looking at it long enough until some of the letters begin to
take shape and become recognizable. An example of such a stone is that
of Isaac Moses which no one was able to read. After taking a picture
with as much contrast as possible and then staring at it until some
letters became visible, I slightly darkened them in
with pencil on an 8X10 matte print. After a while I was able to read
the entire stone. See the "retouched" photo at:";

Question #2 delt with the technique of 'rubbing':

A seach of the Web yields lots of good information; there is a link
to a good set of instructions >from the JewishGen site. If you use
charcoal, you need a fixative; hairspray (according to the site)
works fine. My initial search for rice paper in only two art stores
found some in small sizes; I'll probably go the the National
Cathederalthis afternoon and talk to them about rubbing (although the
informationI have is enough); I don't need a gazillion sheets; perhaps
they can sell me 5-6 in large sizes. No problem finding the lumber

"As for rubbings, I had two requirements: "simple" and
"non-smudging". I used two kinds of paper >from the art supply
store, in big sheets: a thin vellum, and a vegetable parchment.
I liked the vellum better, since it was a bit thinner, but both
worked fine. Both are stiffer than the commonly-used rice paper.
I carried the paper in a tube, so it wouldn't crease. (The tube
even fit in my suitcase!) I bought black "lumber crayons" at Home
Depot. They're just like jumbo elementary school crayons, but a bit
harder. You may have to ask and look closely - the clerks there had
little idea what I was talking about. (A "real" lumberyard should be
more knowledgeable). I tore the paper wrap off, and used the side of
the crayon to rub against the stone. I've heard of using
charcoal, but it smears badly, and must be sprayed with a
fixative immediately - one more thing to carry. Chalks and
pastels were the same problem.

Wanna be creative? Bring a couple of regular colored crayons,
and add a bit of copper or gold or green or blue....
Carvings where the background was carved away were a bit harder
to do, but worked fine.

You probably won't find any raised lettering, it is generally not
permitted on Jewish gravestones. Rubbing an old stone can be harmful
to the stone, depending on its condition, type of stone, and age. If
you insist on rubbing, most art stores carry the necessary paper and
crayons, and often booklets that describe the procedure. You may find
some hints at:

Be sure to check with the municipal authorities before you go. Some
towns prohibit grave rubbing and others have restrictions."

Question #3 innocently proposed that spouse's sites might be
proximally located:

"Depending on how the cemetery is laid out, a spouse could be most
anywhere. Obviously if the cemetery had family plots, they might well
be together. Some of the older cemeteries did not bury males and
females in the same row and often a spouse would be close to his/her
mate but in either the row in front or in back of the other. If a long
period of time lapsed between the two deaths they might be far removed
from one another. I have seen some cemeteries where the entire
cemetery is divided into two parts - one male and one female. There
are also cemeteries where most of the graves are purely
chronological in order of death and may or may not be separated by

My experience is that in Landsmanschaften plots, relatives are not
always buried together. I recently went to Mt. Zion in Queens where my
wife's gggmother, ggfather, ggmother, and two gguncles and ggaunts are
buried. We found all, but only two were buried next to each other,
because they had a double stone. However, at Beth David, my wife's
grandparents and some of her aunts and uncles are buried together
since her gfather individually purchased he plots. You need to know
names before you go. Also good to read some Hebrew so you can
determine if two headstones show the same father's name.
This gives you a good idea that they may be >from the same family."

Here are some other hints:

"Watch out for Poison Ivy!
Wear protective clothing and be sure to place the clothing you wear at
the cemetery in the laundry to be washed or cleaned immediately.

If you relative is buried in a landsmant plot, I would suggest that
you make a list of all the people buried there by walking around each
grave and writing down the names. If you find anyone with a possible
connection then take a picture and/or write down all the information.

Pick a cool day and bring drink and snacks as there may be many plots.

When visiting a cemetery I usually bring grass clippers and a soft
brush or dust broom to clean a stone and to remove any weeds that may
be in the way. A small garden trowel may also be useful to dig arund
the stone if it has sunk into the ground. I would not advise any major
digging though, or clipping of bushes etc. without first clearing this
with the person in charge of the cemetery. Sometimes wetting a stone
helps to read it, and for this, I carry a spray bottle filled with
since the chemicals in them might harm the stone.

- try some of these techniques closer to home and study your results
before visiting a far off site.

- try maybe asking at the cemetary office (usually at the entrance)
when they look up to tell you where the person you are looking for is
located at the cemetary, to look in the list if there are other people
with the same family name buried anywhere at the cemetery. If its an
uncommon name you might be lucky and find another relative

If the cemetery has been well maintained you may have no problem and
need not have extra equipment but it wouldn't hurt to have some
clippers for cutting away weeds that obscure the stone, a whisk broom
to brush away dirt (especially for foot stones)

Don't forget gardening gloves and a pair of gardening shears.
We found our ancestors' graves overgrown with ivy too thick to clear
by hand.

Also, lots of water and paper towels to wash off the stones in order
to get a better picture.

Never kiss a horse on the mouth"

Finally, a suggestion >from Mike (me). Folks may have their own reason
for replying via e-mail vice the list or the newsgroup. However,
remember that if you post to the list or newsgroup, everyone benefits
from your reply (and perhaps sparks an idea) and
second, the reply gets to the archive, where it can be retrieved.

Thanks again to all who contributed - Mike

MODERATOR NOTE: Thanks, Mike, for this annotated overview. This thread is
provisionally closed; however, if you have suggestions that have not yet
been discussed here, we will allow them. Please check the Archives first: