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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Leave Only Flowers, Take Only Pictures

The recent case of a photographer "cleaning" gravestones with a powered wire brush brings to mind a gentleman in my own area, whose name I'll not mention.

This fellow was an ardent genealogist, and known for the energy he brought to all his pursuits. He found in a neighboring town a small cemetery which was home to one of his ancestral families. The graveyard was located on the bank of a small river and, when a dam raised the water level in the mid-1800s, had been closed to new burials. Consequently, a few members of the family were buried in a hilltop cemetery nearby.

Our subject viewed this as a travesty, and set about reuniting the clan. He gained permission to excavate the graves of the displaced family members, placed their bones (after careful inspection) in new coffins, and moved them to the riverside yard.

The same man chiseled new information onto some gravestones, removed one stone to a different cemetery without moving the grave's occupant, and in one case replaced a gravestone and (apparently) discarded the old.

On this Memorial Day weekend, it might be worthwhile to consider the value of cemeteries—not only as sacred places of rest, but as archives. Gravestones are documents, and should be treated as carefully as your great-grandfather's birth certificate, or your immigrant ancestor's passport. For tips on proper treatment of gravestones, see The Association for Gravestone Studies: FAQ.

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