Posted by on November 4, 2013 in Research

Gravestones can have useful information that could help you break through a brick wall, and grow your family tree. Although not all cemeteries are local to your area, with sites like, distant gravestones are made available to you online. If you’re lucky and find that a gravestone you are looking for is near you, there are some things you’ll first need to know before you visit the cemetery. With these quick tips, you’ll be ‘graving’ in no time!

Be RespectfulGravestone- Lexingtom, MO

This really goes without saying, but sometimes we need to be reminded. A cemetery is a place for families to mourn and visit their loved ones. Be respectful of those around you.

Remember not to leave any trash when you leave, and not to disturb what might be at the memorial. If there are flowers, coins, photos, etc. be careful if you move them and put them back leaving everything as you found it. These are memorials, places where people come to remember a lost family member. Keep them as such.

Your mission is to preserve

Sometimes in all the excitement of finding a grave marker that might have information we need, we forget about the basics – we want to preserve that marker and information on it, not damage it.

Many beginners will find a gravestone that they are looking for and the first thing they’ll do is rub it so as to get the information onto a piece of paper. This can often damage the stone, causing chips and deteriorating the grave marker. Before you do any kind of gravestone rubbing, first check with the group that is in charge of the cemetery or find another method that is safer for the stone to get the information you need. Never use untested methods to make the gravestone more readable. People have been known to chalk the writing, clean the stone with soaps or detergents, and  spread shaving cream onto the stone in hopes it will soak it in and make it more visible – these methods might get you what you need but will ultimately harm the grave marker and are not recommended by professional gravers.

Always remember that these gravestones should and need to be preserved for the families and other genealogists down the road so do your best to keep them safe. For a more exhaustive list of what you should and should not do with gravestones, visit the Association for Gravestone Studies.

Contact the Party in Charge of the Cemetery

If you are visiting an active cemetery – one that still has burials occurring – try contacting or visiting the office of whoever is in charge of the cemetery. There may be one onsite or a nearby church could be running the cemetery. If you find a manager/superintendent, they might be able to quickly check records and give you the information that you are looking for or help you locate a gravestone. This may not always be the case as with older cemeteries and gravestones, records are often lost or destroyed, but it never hurts to ask. You might be surprised by what you’ll find. It is also a good idea to contact them, as they will let you know what their rules are for photographing or rubbing the gravestone.

If the cemetery is no longer active, then you will need to find out who is currently in charge of the cemetery. Start by doing a quick Google search of the name of the cemetery to find out who is in charge and then you might need to make a few phone calls to see the state of the cemetery, if they have any records, and what their rules are.Gravestone- Trevilians,VA

Remember that some cemeteries are public and some are private – it’s important to understand that there is a difference. Some are public and you can visit any time when they are open (usually dawn until dusk). However, some cemeteries are on private property and you might be trespassing if you show up without having talked to whoever is in charge. This is why it is important to do some research before you embark on your graving journey. If the cemetery is on private land, find who owns the land or is in charge of it and make a phone call to arrange a visit, ask if you can take photographs, and it’s sometimes nice to give them your contact information in case they have any questions about your research project.

Hopefully with these tips you’ll be off to the next cemetery in no time to find your distant ancestors gravestone. Just remember to always be respectful and do your best to preserve the artifacts that are still available.


  1. Dorothy Willis

    I have never heard of anyone objecting to a photograph of a gravestone. Where have you encountered this and what was the reason given?

  2. Dennis Lurgio

    I would like to publish a private family memorial book. I have almost 400 graves complete with burial information and family links on family tree maker. Suggestions? I won’t use FindAGrave. Many nasty people that only care about numbers and ownership.

  3. Stephanie Thornton

    Please don’t judge all persons on Find a Grave by the nasty few you refer to. There are many, myself included, who are contributors simply to preserve the history and help those who are not able to travel to the area themselves. I love being able to be the eyes and feet for others that can’t get here.

  4. Greta Loeber

    Using findagrave has helped me in so many ways as I research my family. Sometimes the comments lead to new research pathways. I spent Sunday afternoon with my sister in a cemetery I would never have known about unless someone had attached findagrave information on

  5. Patrick O'Leary

    When I started my research I found a pile of pictures of headstones in my late mothers papers but I had no idea which cemetery. When I take a picture of a headstone I always lay a piece of paper with the cemetery’s name and address next to the headstone.
    My method would remind you of what you see at the bottom of a mug shot. It has been very helpful when I get home and start sorting out pictures.

  6. sheryl

    i would like to know what extra info is contained at the cemetery office if you order the plat info–it costs a fortune, and they won’t tell you what is included.

  7. Rebekah

    Thanks to the many unselfish Find A Grave volunteers that will go to the cemetery and take a picture of the headstone and post it for all to see. I’ve been able to “visit” untold numbers of relatives because of their help.

  8. Shirley

    I LOVE Find A Grave! I bless those people who take the time to take pictures of the headstones and add just a few words to complete obituaries. I have asked one photographer to change information about my gr gr grandmother and she did so willingly. There is so much to be found in Find A Grave. I love going to cemeteries because that is where I ‘meet’ relatives who had been only names and now become people. Oh! They might be dead but at the time I touch the headstone they become a person. I don’t rub headstones. Pictures are so much better and you can make as many copies as you want.

  9. Pat Secord

    I, too, love Find A Grave. It’s such a help when the cemeteries are too far away to visit. I’ve also posted quite a few pictures as well, and have many more in my files yet to post. I have also discovered cemeteries I would never have known about if not for Find A Grave.

  10. Judith Barrett

    I also have found many facts from the gravesites that FindaGrave has posted! Thank you to all who have helped with that! I even found family members of my husband in the same cemetery as my family……dated back to the early 1900’s. Also, graves from far away places and from the early 1700’s, which I would never have been able to visit!

  11. Dawn

    I have found that using interface material (from a fabric store, by the yard), painter’s tape and grease pencils make wonderful tracings.

  12. Bonnie Lippincott

    Your link to the Association of Gravestone Studies is no longer connected to their webpage. I did go to their home page and they have good info, but none that I could find on Gravestone Rubbings.

    • Pam Velazquez

      Hi Bonnie,

      Thanks for letting us know! It looks like the Association of Gravestone Studies has updated their website and the link we included no longer works. We’ll update the post with a working link. Thanks! -PV

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