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The Restoration Process
One Step at-a-Time

Step-by-Step Restoration Process

The Restoration Process, One Step at  a Time:

  1. Site selection
  2. Historical investigation and discovery of ownership
  3. Securing permission and/or permits
  4. Preliminary survey and photos
  5. Clearing of brush, weeds, and limbs
  6. Plat map and survey creation or discovery and second photo series
  7. Resetting of markers as required.
  8. Final cleanup of brush and weeds, and mowing.
  9. Depressions filled and seeded.
  10. Final photo series
  11. Ongoing maintenance

Remember there are ongoing workshops available every year.  Please think about attending one.

Site selection
In general, cemeteries eligible for restoration work under the INPCRP should be:

Any cemetery containing the graves of war veterans of this country, pioneer citizens of the resident county, or historical figures, are eligible if those graves or the cemetery is poorly maintained in any way.

Historical investigation and discovery of ownership
Every effort must be made to determine the ownership of every cemetery.  Resources such as the local library, the county recorder, and newspaper advertising can be used.  Some newspapers may provide free space for public requests for information such as this.

Very often neglected cemeteries will be township property -- unless they are on private property on which taxes are "assessed and paid".  (See IC 23-14-68 (CARE OF CEMETERIES BY TOWNSHIPS.)  Tread lightly on the Township Trustee.  They often have no idea the cemetery even exists, or, if they do know about it, have little or no funds available for its upkeep.  Further, IC 23-14-68 may very well prevent the Trustee from caring for the site.  Approach your Township Trustee and other local officials in the spirit of volunteerism.  Ask if you can help, don't demand action.

Securing permission and/or permits
Once ownership has been determined,  make sure that you have written permission to conduct the restoration.  This permission should be posted at the cemetery anytime work is underway.  Ideally, a scanned image of the permission should be displayed on the Cemetery Project Page.  At the very least, a summary of the permission must be on display on the Cemetery Project Page.  In some cases, permits may be required for certain projects.

A permit from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology (pdf) is required to do anything in a cemetery on IDNR managed lands and a development plan permit must be obtained from DNR before disturbing the soil "within 100 feet of a recorded burial ground or cemetery for the purpose of erecting, altering, or repairing any structure".  (See Indiana Code 14-21-1-26 for full statue language.)

A model Permission Slip can be found at, which can be appropriate for projects under the auspices of a Township Trustee pursuant to Indiana Code 23-14-68(The free Adobe Acrobat READER must be installed on your system in order to access this PDF file and it is available from  Township Trustees can authorize restoration projects only on abandoned or neglected cemeteries on which taxes are not assessed and paid.

Preliminary survey and photos ***
After the previously mentioned paperwork is complete, the restoration work can begin.  Initially, only enough brush and debris should be removed to allow access to the cemetery.  This will permit volunteers to begin the work of photographing and surveying the cemetery.  It is important to be as accurate as possible during this phase of the process.  Every grave will not be found in the beginning and each new grave should be added to the map and survey as it is discovered.  Photograph the site from several different angles.  Your photos may need to be used as a reference later on.  Don't forget to include all the footstones and fence rows, around old trees any rocks that may be in the burial rows.  They may be marking a grave too,      see 1 & 2.Photographing Tips

Clearing of brush, weeds, and limbs
After the preliminary survey is complete, tree limbs, undesirable vegetation, trash and second growth trees (small saplings) can be removed.  Work carefully, making sure you don't disturb any grave markers.  Work safely, and wear proper safety equipment.  Learn each type of stone.[see Materials]

Creating plat map and survey  and second photo series
At this point all graves should be visible, either by grave maker or depression.  Finalize the plat map and surveys.  Where no grave marker is visible, you may have to probe the soil to locate sunken markers.  A 24 inch length of steel or aluminum rod with a blunted point will work well for this purpose.  Poking the rod into the soil and listening for the "plink" when you find a hidden marker. Carefully unearth the marker and replace the soil.  Be extra careful to make sure no broken pieces are left behind.  Always photograph the uncovered stone before attempting to move it.  Some stones will crumble in your hands when you try to extract them.  Lay the marker on the grave so it is visible.  Record all required information from the marker on a survey form.  Now is a good time for a second set of photos showing the work in progress.

Creating Maps 
 There are two basic types of plat maps which may be created during the restoration process.  The one used for each cemetery depends on several factors:
The condition of the cemetery...
    ...are most of the stones visible?
The geometry of the cemetery... it square or rectangular?.
The layout of the graves...
    ...are the graves in fairly uniform rows?

If the answer to all of these questions is YES, then a table style plat map should be just fine.  However, if the answer to any of these questions was NO, then the more complicated coordinate-grid map will have to be used.  Whichever map style is used, it must be accompanied by a cemetery survey with one survey sheet for each grave.


Cleaning markers.

The use of improper cleaning materials and practices can cause serious and irreparable damage to gravestones.   There are doubtless many other sources of information on how to clean markers the Connecticut Gravestone Network. will show the proper way. The Association for Gravestone Studies offers some specific information on: 

See also the INPCRP Suggestions for Your Cemetery Restoration and Stone Repair Toolbox for equipment and materials you may want to take with you into the field.

Your first rule should be:  "Do no harm."  The second rule should be:  "When in doubt, consult an expert."   Remember these are historic monuments and you can damage them beyond repair. Do not attempt to clean a stone that is cracking, flaking or scaling.  Sandstone markers, in particular, are susceptible to irreversible damage if improperly cleaned.

Aggressive cleaning methods are never encouraged by preservationists.  Washing with clean water (perhaps aided by the addition of Kodak Photo-Flo [1/4 oz. to 5 quarts of water; used for initial cleaning] OR Orvus soap by Proctor & Gamble [available in paste or liquid form at farm and animal supply stores; 1 to 4 tablespoons to 1 gallon of water for cleaning as an alternative to the Photo-Flo is generally recommended as a first step.  Thorough rinsing is essential and may necessitate hauling large quantities of clean water to the work site.

Don't harm!   We strongly recommend NOT using household cleaners (bleach, ammonia, Borax, TSP, Calgon, Formula 409, Spic and Span, Fantastic, Windex, etc.), hydrochloric acid, muratic acid, phosphoric acid (Lime Away, Naval Jelly), oxalic acid, trisodium phosphate, sodium chloride, sodium sulfate, sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, ammonium carbonate, etc. for cleaning gravestones and markers.

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


Repairing markers.
There are several premier resources for learning to repair broken cemetery markers:

A Graveyard Preservation Primer by Lynette Strangstad -- available through the Association for Gravestone Studies

Every situation is unique.  The condition of the stone, the type of break involved, the nature of the stone, etc. are all essential factors in determining how best to proceed to repair a broken marker.  Just as you can't expect your physician to diagnose a mole over the phone, no member of the INPCRP can tell you exactly how best to proceed, certainly not without examining the stone in question.  Members of the group may try to tell you in general terms what might work best; but, if you are in doubt, we will refer you back to the above-mentioned premier resources.

Attending cemetery restoration workshops are one of the best ways to learn more about stone repair techniques.


Resetting of markers as required.
When possible, it is desirable that grave markers be restored to a vertical position.  Righting large monuments will, of course, have to be left to the experts; however, smaller broken markers can often be fairly easily repaired and/or restored to an upright position. Take a look at this link. (pdf)

Flat markers of the type used for Civil War veterans were usually set directly into the ground.  Restore them in the same manner.

Broken or missing veterans' makers can be replaced with new ones, if required.  See U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration website for more details.

Some of the broken markers may need special epoxies to hold the parts in place.  Consult with your local stone repair or cemetery monument dealer for their recommendations on an appropriate epoxy.   Be sure to read the epoxy instructions thoroughly and repeatedly before attempting the repair.  See the cemetery toolbox page. 

When reinstalling markers, first make sure the stones face the proper direction --most will face east, but this was not a hard and fast rule.
Unmarked graves should be denoted with some sort of homemade marker to indicate a burial place. Look for field stones, they are often right in the row marking a grave.  Please don't remove these. 

Final cleanup of brush and weeds, and mowing.
When all the markers are in their proper place, the remaining small brush and weeds can be removed and the cemetery mowed or weed-whipped.  Be careful not to hit any markers or anything that could become a projectile when you mow.

Depressions filled and seeded.
If needed, grave depressions can be filled and the cemetery leveled off.  The location of some cemeteries will make this very impractical.  If you do add fill to the grave depressions, throw on some grass seed to help hold the soil.

Final photo series
Take some photos to show off your proud achievement.  Forward these photos and the survey forms to the County Coordinator.  The photos will be posted on the Cemetery Project Page and the survey and plat map will be compiled and forwarded to the local library.

Ongoing maintenance
The cemetery should occasionally be revisited to clean up the fallen limbs and mow the grass.  Also, watch for signs of deterioration and vandalism.  Hopefully, one of your volunteers will be proud enough to take care of this last step.


Many experienced cemetery preservationists understand that someone with little or no experience in this field of work can do more harm than good. Even a well funded project without the proper planning can do irreversible damage to the historical integrity of the burial ground. 

While the person that is untrained may have the best of intentions and you do not want to discourage them in their efforts, more often than not they can cause additional damage and problems that need to be addressed. Saving Graves highly recommends that you attempt to schedule at least one training workshop for your volunteers prior to starting the project.

Training workshops for volunteers can help keep costs down and as much work in-house as possible.

Workshops (or one extended workshop) can train volunteers in skills necessary for such tasks as mapping, documentation, surveying, photographing markers, site maintenance, stone resetting, and stone cleaning. 

A training workshop gives individuals the opportunity to gain experience in identifying problems they may encounter and hands on experience in arriving at correct solutions. 

Sometimes the most valuable lesson is a clear understanding of what is best left to experienced professionals. There are many experienced professionals that are willing to meet with your group and provide training workshops, and pass along their knowledge and  expertise in the cemetery preservation and restoration fields.

Thanks to John "Walt" Walters for providing this information.

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