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Do You Have a Graveyard Kit? Here are the 13 Things I Keep in Mine

By Susan Wallin Mosey

Is it weird that I have a graveyard kit?  How else can you go grave hunting in an organized and well-equipped manner?  Mine is stored in a pink bucket with a decal on it.  (I’m a very girly grave hunter.)

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The bucket contains all the stuff I need for proper gravestone hunting (except a goodly supply of water—never leave home without a goodly supply of water).  The bucket contains:

1. A notebook and a pen, along with any information that I had the foresight to gather together beforehand.

2. My camera, of course.  How else can I take photos to upload to findagrave or billiongraves?

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3. A little pink flashlight, for casting shadows on gravestones for better pictures.  The experts advise a big mirror for that purpose, but that won’t fit into my bucket.

4. Grass snips, a trowel, and a whisk broom, for quick cleanup work as required.

5. Cotton gloves.

6. A second bucket just like the first one, for hauling water if there’s a faucet.  (But I learned the hard way to also bring plenty of gallon jugs of water, especially when going to very old or abandoned cemeteries.)

7. A soft scrub brush that fits well into my husband’s hand.

8. Liquid soap—a special kind.  I did a lot of research on this subject!  It’s called “Orvus” and it has three main uses, so I’m told:  Washing horses, washing antique fabrics, and washing gravestones.  Fancy that!

9. Wet wipes.  I like having clean hands when I use my camera (and all the rest of the time, too, actually).

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10. A big Ziploc bag, for kneeling upon to take photographs.  I don’t like dirty knees either.

11. Bug repellent.  I once went wandering through some tall grass in the woods in cropped pants, looking for a few old gravestones which made up a small old family cemetery…  and I came out with about a hundred bug bites on my lower legs.  I’m lucky I didn’t end up with Lyme disease!

12. White chalk for marking trees and driveways for navigational purposes.  Don’t want to walk the same rows twice if I don’t have to.

13. Little American flags.  I like to leave them at the graves of veterans.

Okay, so is this normal, or weird?  All genealogists love graveyards, right?  I once saw a coffee mug for genealogists that said, “I’m only interested in dead people.”  Well, yes, but I wouldn’t say only

Find important dos and don’ts for visiting cemeteries here.

Also read: A Gravesite Can Reveal Remarkable Details About Your Ancestor, IF You Can Find It: Here’s How

31 thoughts on “Do You Have a Graveyard Kit? Here are the 13 Things I Keep in Mine”

  1. I use Bounce drier sheets to keep bug off… especially ticks. They take up little space and stay fresh kept in a plastic sandwich bag. Rub on legs and arms. Stick in pockets, etc.

  2. LOVED your article.

    I have carried my “graveyard box” as my children have called it for years. It is as important as my Emergency kit. I never go anywhere without either of them. When I change cars my “Kits” get changed to the caar I’m in.
    I usually go to my local monument company to find cleaners that are appropriate for the area. I don’t want to use something too harsh. Also the local monument companies are familiar with the most commonly used stone types in the area. I have all of the same items in my kit. (Thought I was the only one with the flags. Started that when my boys were in scouting) When my grandchildren were little we had a mirror that attached to the back of the headrest in the car so I just left it in the car and have it handy to use also. My flashlight is blue and has three different lens. (the kind we use in crime scene investigation. The various colors will often show letters better. My bug repellant is Avon’s Skin So Soft. I also have a disposable camera just incase I need a back up. A small natural bristle paint brush to remove grass clippings and dust. My box also has a lid. I use Google Maps on my phone to pinpoint the longitude and latitude.
    I am also a paralegal and work for others as well sometimes for free sometimes they contribute to my work.

  3. According to Find a Grave rules you are not suppose to remove or scrub any moss or lichens from the stones. To do so may damage the stone further and is too invasive and intrusive in what should be a peaceful reverent place. The less touching the better.

    1. Amen Cindy ~ You should NEVER scrub, rub, wet or otherwise disturb when approaching a stone. There are certain light techniques (black light, anyone?) that can do just as good a job to help you see the stone. There are a LOT of municipalities and counties that have ordinances against “defacing” (and yes, that’s what you are doing when you apply any pressure or chemicals to a stone) markers or headstones – and the fines can be pretty steep. I say, “Back off and leave your “scrub brush” at home…or risk a ticket”

  4. I put nothing except water on a stone to heighten anything I need. I do not scrape moss or lichens off of a stone as it may open new fissures for water/rain in to further damage the stone – especially in climates where it freezes. If the camera can’t see it with natural or artificial shadows, I read the best I can with my fingers. I don’t do rubbings but there is special paper, and shoe black (if you can get it from a cobbler) creates a good image.

    Of course, good photos of the stone, wide angle shots to help relocate the stone (for others) lat/long if you have the ability to get those – so a gps is nice. I do note if I have had to read with my fingers, or guess at the inscription in places. At home, I add what I know from other research if there is a conflict of dates or other information. Stone cutters can make mistakes and early dates (birth/marriage) are secondary, as a rule. .

  5. The Association for Graveston Studies: To safely read a worn inscription, AGS recommends the following methods:
    Use a large mirror to direct bright sunlight diagonally across the face of the gravestone to cast shadows in indentations and make inscriptions more visible. In wooded areas, use a flashlight to achieve similar results.
    Take a digital photo, upload onto a computer, edit the picture, and choose invert colors. This will make the image look like an old 35mm negative and bring out the lettering. To keep a copy of the original and edited photograph, select “save as” when saving the edited photograph. Use a mirror to shine sunlight across the face of a stone, making the lettering stand out. You should always prefer a non-invasive method to interact with gravestones just as we do with medical tests on our own bodies.

  6. Get a large bottle of the cheap talcum powder. After brushing off moss or algae from the tombstone (soft bristle brushes only!) rub the talc on the stone to make the lettering stand out. You can also use a cheap paint brush to apply the talc. Also, a good quality machete to cut away brush. I also have a 1/4″ x 24″ sharpened rod with a file handle attached to probe for fallen tombstones.

    1. But foiling has its critics, too… I think common sense can prevail. Some stones are very solid and shiny, others are more fragile.

    2. Farm and Fleet! It comes in a big jar for about $25. You can also get a little tiny bottle of the same stuff on antique fabrics websites for maybe $10 plus shipping. It only takes a little, in water, to do the job.

  7. I have a graveyard kit in my car, and I know another genealogist who does the same. I also like to tease my husband that I have more pictures of him bending over tombstones (while he’s cleaning them) than I have of him standing up!

  8. We learned from a graveyard worker in Barstow that all you need is a grill stone and water for most markers. It shines them up quick and you can read them like they were new.

    1. what is a grill stone please ???? live here in Ireland – just wondering where it could be got!
      loved your article – think there are alot of us about – keep up the good work

  9. I also have tongue blades in my cache. They are good for scraping off moss, etc/ on really old tombstones.

  10. A small, tasteful, bunch of flowers, real or artificial, is nice to place by the grave when taking pictures.

  11. Paper and pencil to rub the headstone. Place paper on headstone and rub with side of pencil for designs and names., Will only work on newer flat headstones.

  12. Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana

    Hi! There were a number of people who, I suspect, only skimmed this great post and commented about using liquid soap, specifically “dish detergent”. Perhaps an edit on #8 to specify “Orvus – a preservation approved cleanser”? to avoid the misunderstanding? I’ve had an orange Home Depot bucket in the back of my truck for several years now and it has genuinely come in handy, so I really love this post. (And, we’re neighbors…I’m in North Aurora!) 🙂

    1. Yeah, I expected to get really “flamed” about using any kind of soap, but thankfully, that didn’t happen. The Orvus soap is special – there’s a scientific explanation as to why, which I’ve forgotten at the moment.

      North Aurora! As I type this I’m about a block from Butterfield Road!

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