(reading stones, cleaning stones, taking pictures of stones)


A common thing people want to do is be able to read what is on the stone. For some reason, some feel that they should stop at nothing to read the stone now - even if that means damaging the stone even more by using products and techniques that could hurt the stone.

Just to make it clear - I have never - nor will I ever put anything on a stone to read it. I have visited cemeteries and taking pictures of stones with what looks like baby powder or chalk on the stones before - and before anyone yells at me - IT WAS ALREADY ON THERE - I always take pictures on how I find it - NEVER put anything on stones.

You SHOULD NEVER use things like Baby Powder, Chalk, Shaving Cream, flour, or anything else other then water. Things like this contain chemicals which could do damage to a stone. Some will say "Oh, well shaving cream is safe for my face so it should be safe for a stone" - well your face & stone are 2 different things. Different chemicals and such could work themselves into the stone - and add to that different extreme weather conditions the stone has to deal with - those chemicals could react in a way to damage the stone. So many different types of stones are used with each one reacting different to different things..... Bottom line - Why chance it?

2nd bottom line - Unless you are a descended of the the one who purchased the stone, or a caretaker of the cemetery- YOU SHOULD NOT TOUCH IT

3rd bottom line - Using any of the above can be considered vandalism - even if your goals are "good", doing things like that can cause damage and can be considered vandalism.

So you ask - What can we do to make a stone more readable?

WATER - some have found having a small spray bottle of water and lightly spraying the stone with water will sometimes bring out words better.

PICTURES - Take some digital pictures - then on the computer, try manipulating them - different color tones, black & white, etc.... sometimes it will bring out something.

LIGHT - Sometimes if the light is just right shinning in a certain direction over the stone, it can bring something out. Also with a camera you might be able to do this with the flash while take a picture at an extreme angle. Some people will bring a mirror and try to reflect light from an angle to be able to read certain things.



Myself, I don't clean stones. I take pictures of stones on how they are. But I figured if I was doing a "tips" page, I would include this also.

To clean a stone, you need only a few things.

1. Make sure stone is stable


3. Soft brush

Like mentioned above, different chemicals in different cleaning agents can react differently in the hundreds of different types of stones used in cemeteries. Water, like rain, should be the only liquid on the stones.

SOFT BRUSH - I have seen stones where it looks like people to hard wire brushes to them - now creating hundreds of little lines for water to get into.... possible freezing and cracking and damaging the stone. DO NOT DO THAT. It may look nice when you are done, but you are going to ruin the stone for the generations to come.



Well there are many tips on the best placement of the sun - behind you on the stone - or around noon when the sun is above the stone bringing out the best shadows - but I know myself, I don't have time to sit around waiting for the sun to best line up for the best pictures, so here are a few of my own tips.

Have a tip? Leave it below in the comments area.

1-5 of 7 Comments
bob – Indy
July 20, 2012 - 14:16
Subject: Will be going to Stearn and McFarland Cemeteries

HI, Will be going to Stearns and Mcfarland Cemeteries to take photos of family sites. Is there anyone we need to contact first and would these folks have a map to help us locate our family members? Any suggestions would help. Thanks Bob

Reply to bob
Michael A. Coan – Vermilion County Illinois
July 20, 2012 - 18:23
Subject: Stearn & McFarland

Stearns Cemetery is a bigger cemetery, but is open to the public. Near their garage they have a "mail box" which has a copy of the internment list & map to the cemetery - so you should be able to look up who you are looking for, and then hopefully be able to find them. I took pictures of the maps here on my site (along with all the stones) in case you want to get a head start in your research.

Stearns -

McFarland is located down a path off the road, with a sign near the road. The last time I was there, the path is not drivable, so I parked at the road and walked back to the cemetery. It's next to the house, and the last time I was there, there were no " no trespassing" signs or anything, so I believe it's free to walk back there. I also have pictures of every headstone from this cemetery on my site - it's a smaller cemetery, so if you can find the stone now and see what it looks like, it will hopefully be easy to find who you are looking for once you get there.

McFarland Cemetery -

Good Luck!

Bill – Arkansas
May 27, 2012 - 10:26
Subject: Headstone

The best way to pull out info on a stone that is 100% safe for the stone is aluminum foil and a soft bristle brush (like a paint brush). Place foil over stone face and brush over foil. The brush will form the foil in the voids making a foil copy of the stone. The brush never touches the stone, only the foil. Foil can be reused over and over making it environmentally friendly. Recommended by many cemetery conservationists.

Lilly (McBride) LeVeque – Montana
January 04, 2012 - 00:35
Subject: Mann's chapel

Thank you for all of your pictures. I found my grandparents graves and they look good.
I took some pictures of all of my close relative in Mann's as I didn't think I would be back for awhile. It has been a couple of years.
I was wondering if you knew if Mann's Chapel has a committe that takes care of it? We had the book that was done a while back but i do not know who ended up with it. While there are only three people buried in my Grandfathers lot, I was always told that there are three more plots in this lot. Where is the best place to find this information? Thanks again for you time, it is really great that you are doing this.

karen – california
December 21, 2010 - 22:59

Tip: I keep an umbrella in my "cemetery" bag & use it to shade the headstone when the glare makes it difficult to read. Also-your water tip--take a photo FIRST--because sometimes the water makes it harder to read--but most of the time it helps!

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