AGS (Association for Gravestone Studies) leaflets can be ordered separately by clicking here
Me in my younger days, visiting Lester Moore & the OK Coral
To Read a tombstone easier when worn badly - try using a large mirror to direct bright sunlight diagonally across the face of a tombstone, this casts shadows in indentations and makes inscriptions more visible.
If the writing is too faded to read, use a 75 watt black light bulb in any lamp that casts light directly on the written message. The writing will miraculously appear.

What is the origin of the practice of all headstones facing east?
In many, but by no means all, early New England burying grounds the graves are positioned east/west. This east/west orientation is the most common orientation in other parts of the country and world as well. The earliest settlers had their feet pointing toward the east and the head of the coffin toward the west, ready to rise up and face the "new day" (the sun) when "the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised" or when Christ would appear and they would be reborn. If the body was positioned between the headstone and the footstone, with the inscriptions facing outward, the footstone might actually be facing east and the decorated face of the headstone facing west. If the headstone inscription faces east, the body would most commonly be buried to the east of it. Much depends on the layout of the graveyard -- if there was a church or other building in the center of the burial site, where the high ground was located, the location of access roads, etc. Early graves were seldom in the neat rows that we are used to seeing. Burials were more haphazard, more medieval in their irregularity; families didn't own plots and burial spaces were often reused. The north side of the cemetery was considered less desirable and is often the last part of the burying ground to be used, or you may find the north side set aside for slaves, servants, suicides, "unknowns," etc. In many burial grounds graves face all four points on the compass. Sometimes a hilly site will have stones facing all four directions. With the coming of the Rural Cemetery Movement in the 1830s and 40s, an entirely new style of burial became popular. The ideal of winding roads and irregular terrain dictated the orientation of the monuments to a large degree.

One way to help find the era your ancestor was buried is to examine the material from which the tombstone is made.
* If your ancestor has a stone made of slate or common fieldstone (except wood used by pioneers), chances are the stone dates from 1796-1830.

* If the stone is flat-topped hard marble, dates are about 1830-1849.

* If the "mystery" stone is round or pointed soft marble with cursive inscriptions, look for a date of 1845-1868.

* Masonic four-sided stones began in 1850 and are still in use today.

* Pylons, columns and all exotic-style monuments are usually dated 1860-1900.

* Zinc monuments date from 1870-1900.

* Granite, now common, came into use about 1900.

Symbolism on Gravestones
by Jessie Lie Farber

What is the meaning of the designs carved on old gravestones?
This question is often asked by both the interested layman and the serious student of gravestone art. A great deal of casual speculation and considerable scholarly research have been devoted to finding answers.

Speculative interpretations of some of the more obvious designs can safely be made by the insightful observer. The winged hourglass, for example, tells us that time flies; the hourglass on its side, that time has stopped for the deceased; the broken flower or tree, that life has been cut short. Hundreds of other designs invite this kind of easy, simplistic interpretation, and a number of lists have been prepared which suggest to the reader what the symbol probably means. The best of these is included in a handsome book of gravestone photographs by Francis Duval and Ivan Rigby, Early American Gravestone Art in Photographs.

Unfortunately, not all designs on gravestones can be interpreted in such a neat, uncomplicated way, and attempts to do so are fraught with the likelihood of error. Professional scholars disagree sharply about the meaning of particular designs; they even debate the extent to which it is possible to determine their meaning and significance. This healthy diversity of opinion stimulates interest and further study.

Because there are few simple answers, you should, if you are interested in the symbolism on old gravestones, approach the subject with an open, inquiring attitude laced with a healthy skepticism. Familiarize yourself with varying scholarly opinions. Read literature about the work of individual carvers and about the life of the period. And most important, study the stones themselves. With patience and perseverance you will develop a good background and understanding of this fascinating subject.

AGS has a leaflet on symbolism titled "Symbolism in the Carvings on Old Gravestones" which contains a long list of symbols with possible meanings.
The leaflet can be ordered separately (Top of page).

White Bronze Markers
by Barbara Rotundo

Hollow-metal markers in a bluish-gray color, white bronze gravestones are cast zinc. If you are not sure whether you have iron or zinc, try a magnet, because zinc is not magnetic like iron. All zinc cemetery monuments came one way or another from Bridgeport, Connecticut. These markers, made in the same shapes and styles as marble and granite monuments, appear in cemeteries from Hawaii to Maine to Texas and from Vancouver to Halifax in Canada. Each of the four sides was separately cast, and in the case of very tall monuments there would be several castings to each side. The cheapest (about $6 in the 1890s) was a single cast tablet.

Bridgeport started manufacturing them in the mid 1870s and discontinued production in 1912. The company continued to make zinc and other nonferrous castings for automobile and radio parts until the owner dissolved it in 1939. In 1881 Bridgeport set up its first subsidiary, in Detroit. After that it established plants in Philadelphia, New Orleans, St. Thomas, Ontario, and the two longest-lasting plants, Western Bronze in Des Moines and American Bronze in Chicago.

The accounts are not clear as to whether the parts were all cast in Bridgeport and shipped to the subsidiaries for fusing or whether the actual casting was done in the various cities. The patented process, that has held up very well, was the scheme of heating molten zinc much higher than its melting point and pouring it into the joint between the cast pieces. This melted the surface of the cast pieces and fused them more solidly than soldering would have done.

The markers were all custom-made. That is, none were made ahead of time but were ordered by the customer from a catalog. (The Winterthur end Metropolitan Museums are two placed holding these catalogs.*) The customer ordered from a local agent. Rarely did marble and granite monument dealers also sell white bronze, and contrary to folk belief, Sears Roebuck never sold white bronze monuments. Often cemeteries have only one marker or one plot with zinc for every family member. Another folk belief is that these were put up as demonstrations. There is no evidence for this. At the end of every catalog was an entreaty urging people to become agents. "No capital investment needed." I believe the single markers represent an agent who met with little success and soon gave up. Where you find a dozen or more white bronze, you are looking at some agent's success story.

Having chosen the style and size, a customer could order as many images for decoration as he wanted. Since price was not related to the number, some customers chose several for each side. The individual epitaphs were usually cast on separate plates-some of the four plates having only images at first. These were fixed to the marker by screws with an ornamental head. They could then be replaced when additional family members died.

Vandals also learned how to remove the screws and sometimes walked off leaving holes in the sides of the markers. These gave rise to two folk tales. The first is that smugglers used the markers to hide their bottles during prohibition. The second says the tall monuments with holes were for storing rakes and brooms. There may have been such uses after the plates vanished, but the insides are not really that roomy or convenient.

Zinc resists corrosion, and modern industrial processes still take advantage of its anti-corrosive properties. Thus the castings are still sharp and clear. However, zinc has two unfortunate characteristics. It is quite brittle and may break if hit--by a falling branch, for instance. The other is that over many years unsupported weight will cause it to creep. Many statues of Civil War soldiers with no inner armature to support the weight have crept so that the soldiers now lean and look tipsy or half asleep. Architectural Iron in Milford, Pennsylvania, is willing to undertake repairs of zinc and does a fine restoration job, but the cost will take your breath away. Keep your fingers crossed and enjoy what you have!

For more details, read Barbara Rotundo's article in Dick Meyer's "Cemeteries and Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture," available from the the AGS publications list (Top of page).

*And many research libraries have the microfilm collection "Decorative Arts Catalogs" from the Winterthur Museum.

GRAVESTONE RUBBINGS - Do's and Don'ts from the Association for Gravestone Studies
From "Gravestone Rubbing for Beginners," a leaflet available from the Association for Gravestone Studies (Top of page).

Gravestone rubbing is fun. It is possible to collect some beautiful artwork that can be framed and displayed. A carver's skill can be preserved, or an ancestor's stone recorded and appreciated through this craft. However, gravestone rubbing is also controversial. Especially in cemeteries where a restoration project is in progress, rubbing is often banned. This is to enable the restorers to have an opportunity to preserve all the stones possible before more damage occurs. Even if a restoration project is not in progress, if the those who care for the cemetery have determined there are very fragile stones there which may be damaged if pressure is applied to the surface as happens in rubbing, there may be prohibitions in place. So be sure to check.

Below are some Do's and Don'ts that will make your experience in the cemetery a good one.

Please Do -
Check (with cemetery superintendent, cemetery commissioners, town clerk, historical society, whoever is in charge) to see if rubbing is allowed in the cemetery.

Get permission and/or a permit as required.

Rub only solid stones in good condition. Check for any cracks, evidence of previous breaks and adhesive repairs, defoliating stone with air pockets behind the face of the stone that will collapse under pressure of rubbing, etc

Become educated; learn how to rub responsibly.

Use a soft brush and plain water to do any necessary stone cleaning.

Make certain that your paper covers the entire face of the stone; secure with masking tape.

Use the correct combination of paper and waxes or inks; avoid magic marker-type pens or other permanent color materials.

Test paper and color before working on stone to be certain that no color bleeds through.

Rub gently, carefully.

Leave the stone in better condition than you found it.

Take all trash with you; replace any grave site materials that you may have disturbed.

Please Don't -

Don't attempt to rub deteriorating marble or sandstone, or any unsound or weakened stone (for example, a stone that sounds hollow when gently tapped or a stone that is flaking, splitting, blistered, cracked, or unstable on its base).

Don't use detergents, soaps, vinegar, bleach, or any other cleaning solutions on the stone, no matter how mild!

Don't use shaving cream, chalk, graphite, dirt, or other concoctions in an attempt to read worn inscriptions.

Don't use stiff-bristled or wire brushes, putty knives, nail files, or any metal object to clean or to remove lichen from the stone; Soft natural bristled brushes, whisk brooms, or wooden sticks are usually OK if used gently and carefully

Don't attempt to remove stubborn lichen. Soft lichen may be thoroughly soaked with plain water and then loosened with a gum eraser or a wooden popsicle stick. Be gentle. Stop if lichen does not come off easily.

Don't use spray adhesives, scotch tape, or duct tape. Use masking tape.

Don't use any rubbing method that you have not actually practiced under supervision.

Don't leave masking tape, wastepaper, colors, etc., at the grave site.

Review and Evaluation:
Selected Brand Name Materials for Cleaning Gravestones, by Tracy C. Walther

I. INTRODUCTION - Some important general guidelines to remember when considering cleaning burial monuments:

A. Evaluate the general condition of the burial monument. Do not attempt to clean the monument if it exhibits any cracks, flaking and scaling, or eroding granular surfaces. Carefully sound (gently tap surface with finger) stone to determine if there are any underlying hollow areas. If hollow areas are detected, do not continue with cleaning or handling.

B. Determine the type of soiling to remove it in the most effective manner. Types of soiling could be:
Carbonaceous or sooty soiling
Urban grime; dirt
Organic--algae, fungi, lichens, mosses
Stains--metallic, oils, etc.
Efflorescence (salts)

C. Initiate cleaning process with the least aggressive method--gentle, clean water rinsing. If washing with water alone is not sufficient, carefully proceed with the use of a selected material to facilitate cleaning. Select the gentlest possible method that will achieve a desirable or acceptable level of cleanliness.

D. Always test selected cleaning method(s) before general application. Test entire cleaning procedure in a small inconspicuous area on the monument.

E. Pre-wet monument with water before the application of any chemical cleaning solutions. Pre-wetting prevents excessive penetration of cleaning solutions and soiling into the stone, and facilitates softening of soiling.

F. Clean from the bottom to the top of the monument to avoid streak staining on the stone. Periodically rinse runoff.

G. Always rinse thoroughly with water. Residues from chemical cleaning solutions can create a blotchy appearance, provide mediums for bacterial action, and cause staining. Do not allow cleaning solutions to dry on a monument.

H. Do not assume that a cleaning procedure that is effective in one specific case is therefore applicable for all cleaning situations. professional.

I. Consult with a conservation

II. Review and Evaluation of Selected Brand Name Materials for Cleaning Gravestones

A. Soaps and detergents -

1. Soaps (e.g., "Ivory"): commercial household detergents (liquids and powders) are not recommended for cleaning masonry. They are rendered insoluble by calcium ions present in stone and hard water. They may also produce free alkali and fatty acid salts.

2. Non-ionic Detergents (e.g., Photo Flo - a Kodak product): Non-ionic detergents are recommended for cleaning gravestones. They are electrically neutral cleaning agents that do not contain or contribute to the formation of soluble salts. They provide better wetting of the masonry surface and, therefore, successfully facilitate the removal of general soiling. Non-ionic detergents are available from conservation, janitorial, and photographic suppliers. A suggested cleaning solution is one ounce non-ionic detergent to 5 gallons water.

B. Acidic Cleaning Materials

1. Hydrochloric or Muriatic Acid, Phosphoric Acid (e.g. "Lime Away," "Naval Jelly"), oxalic acid are not recommended for general cleaning of gravestones. The use of hydrochloric or muriatic acid may result in ferrous chloride (rust) staining and the deposition of soluble salts. Muriatic acid, which is readily available in hardware stores, is a raw acid. It is a by-product of processing steel and contains metallic particles that can cause ferrous staining.

C. Alkaline, Corrosive, and Biocidal Cleaning Materials

1. Sodium Hydroxide (e.g., "Borax"), Sodium Hypochlorite (e.g., "Clorox" "liquid chlorine") is not recommended for general cleaning of stone.

2. Calcium Hypochlorite (e.g., Chlorine, "HTH," "Shock Treatment"): Calcium hypochlorite or chlorine is effective for the removal of biological growth. It is a granular product that is not to be confused with "liquid chlorine" or sodium hypochlorite. Calcium hypochlorite is available from swimming pool suppliers. A suggested cleaning solution is one ounce calcium hypochlorite to one gallon hot water. This product should be used only when a waterhose with a good water pressure (e.g., 55 psi) is available.

3. Ammonium Hydroxide (e.g., household ammonia): Solutions of household ammonia are recommended for cleaning light colored stones. Ammonia is particularly effective for the removal of biological growth. One cup ammonia to one gallon water.

4. Quatemary Ammoniums (e.g., algaecides or biocides for swimming pools): Quaternary Ammoniums have a slightly different chemical structure than ammonium hydroxide. They are especially effective for the removal of biological growth, particularly stubborn black algae. Quaternary ammoniums are available from swimming pool suppliers and list ingredients such as alkylbenzyl trimethyl ammonium, benzyl alkyl dimethyl ammonium chlorides, or benzyl aklyl dimethyl ammonium bromides.

5. Trisodium Phosphate (e.g., "TSP, "Calgon"): Trisodium phosphate is not recommended for cleaning monuments. It can cause the formation and deposition of soluble salts. "Calgon" contains trisodium phosphate and a number of additives that may be detrimental to monuments.

6. "Fantastic" All Purpose Cleaner, "Formula 409," "Spic and Span" and abrasive cleansers: These are not recommended for cleaning monuments. Avoid products containing sodium chloride, sodium sulfate, sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and ammonium carbonate, due to their ability to form and deposit soluble salts in monuments.


A. The following items are recommended for use in cleaning procedures for masonry: soft natural bristle (e.g., tampico) brushes, nylon brushes, tooth brushes, Q-tips, sponges (especially natural sponges). Wood and some plastic spatulas are also recommended.

B. Do not use metal brushes or scrapers, or abrasive pads (e.g., "Brillo," "Scotchbrite") to clean monuments.


A. Do not rely solely upon product labels or advertising. Brand name materials that are readily available from hardware and grocery stores are generally intended for household use. Information is not provided for specialized applications outside of the home or workshop.

B. Remember to consult with a conservation consultant before cleaning. The use of improper cleaning materials and practices can cause serious and irreparable damage to gravestones.

Tools and Materials for Gravestone Cleaning Projects
by Fannin Lehner - Preservation Consultants


~ Marble and Limestone


Non-ionic Detergent (Photo-Flo-Kodak product)

Household Ammonia (Requires water hose for rinsing and Hydrion Paper test strips for pH testing.)

Calcium Hypochlorite (HTH) for biological growth retardation. (Requires water hose for rinsing and Hydrion Paper test strips for pH testing.)

~ Slate and Other Stone


Non-ionic Detergent (Photo-Flo-Kodak product)


~ Good water supply

~ Non-ionic Detergent (Photo-Flo--Kodak product).

~ 1/4 oz./5quarts water

~ Ammonia--1 cup/1gal. water (for marble only)

~ Calcium Hypochlorite (granular)-2 oz.dry/1 gal. warm water

~ Assortment of brushes (NOT WIRE) of varyimg stiffness.

~ Toothbrushes (firm), sponges

~ Scrapers- craft sticks, plastic scrapers


~ Kaolin/porcelain clay (dry),

~ Glycerine (use 50/50 mixture with water)

~ Water

~ Saran Wrap and heavy plastic for wrapping

~ Tape/ string to secure plastic

~ Scrapers- plastic and wood


~ Wire brushes, metal instruments, abrasive pads (Scotchbrite, Brillo, Steel wool)

~ Acid or acidic cleaners (especially on marble or limestone!) (Should only be used by conservators with proper training on non-calcareous stone)

~ Household cleaners: soap (Ivory), detergents (liquid or powder), Borax, Clorox, TSP, Calgon, Fantastik, Formula 409, Spic and Span (or any other abrasive cleaner)

REMEMBER: The use of improper cleaning materials and practices can cause serious and irreparable damage to gravestones! Make sure the stone is stable before attempting to clean it - no flaking, delaminating, etc.
Adhesive Suppliers

Eastern Marble & Granite
904 Marcon Blvd.
Allentown, PA 18109-9552
(610) 266-3121

Stone Boss Industries
3604 Borough Place
Woodridge, NY 11377
Akemi Products for Marble and Granite
(718) 278-2677

Wood and Stone
10155 Residency Road
Manassas, VA 22111
Akemi Products for Marble and Granite

PROSOCO Products
(Gary Cook at Waldo Bros. in Boston)
(617) 828-6551 or in Connecticut (860) 289-9500
Numerous products for gravestone conservation
including fiber glass rod for blind pinning.
Also stone consolidant Conservae HCT

Miles Supply Co.
POB 237, Barre, VT 05641
(800) 396-8049 or in Elberton, GA (888) 283-5863
or Vermont residents (802) 476-3963
Barre-Pax Epoxy
Cleaning Bronze tablets (kits):

Matthews International
252 Park West Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15275-1002
(412) 788 2111

Gran Quartz
4963 South Royal Atlanta Drive
Tucker, GA 30084
(770) 621-0774

Waldo Bros. in Boston
202 Southampton St.

Boston, MA 02118-2716
(617) 445-3000
One of my web site visitors passed on this valuable information about headstones that have a string of letters and numbers on them. Should you ever happen to see anything like this on a stone;
AE 68 Y   10 M    17 D
This is what it means;
AE is the abbreviation for aetatis which is Greek for age.
And the numbers and letters give the person's age: 68 years, 10 months, 17 days
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