Restoring Old Cemeteries
by Hilda M. Fife, Theodore Brown and Lyle Littlefield
edited by Jonathan D. McKallip
published by Maine Old Cemetery Association
Planning and Equipment
- Choose a cemetery to work on; secure permission
from owners of land
or town officials.
- Take pictures "before" starting work, "during,"
and "after" the restoration.
- Clothing suitable for protection against heavy
growth and sometimes
poison ivy. Don't forget insect repellent, drinking
water, lunch, other
- Possible equipment:
righting a stone
||probe (for finding a stone)
|brushes (nylon or fiber
|scythe or weed eater
|ax (for tree roots)
||tripod, pulleys & straps
|rakes (light weight)
||burlap (or plastic) bags
||sand, gravel, bricks
- Record cemetery location, both road/map location
and GPS location.
- Measure the perimeter of the cemetery. Look for an old
- Record inscriptions if not already done. Check
MOCA Inscription Project.
- Include measurements of tombstones and the material they are
made of (wood, slate, marble, white bronze, gray/red granite, etc.).
- Create a plot map where each stone was found; this is
helpful in recovering very old cemeteries.
- DO NOT discard fieldstones - they are probably markers.
- Cut weeds and tall grass. Trim about stones.
- Rake up clippings, leaves, trash; put in bags and
- Clear out brush, small "scrub" trees;
remove. DO NOT burn
trash, brush or leaves inside the cemetery.
- Prune or cut trees in moderation.
- Ax out any tree roots that are heaving or
- Repair and straighten fences, rock walls,
plot border stones.
- Probe for fallen stones. If a probe goes
down the same depth (3-10
inches) at several locations, there probably is a stone buried under
- Level up stones by hand (first loosen dirt with trowel or
by gently lifting foundation with a tripod, pulleys and straps.
- Clean stones with brushes and water only. (For stubborn dirt
consult an authority on safe materials.) Check with the
Association for Gravestone Studies www.gravestonestudies.org
for current recommended procedures.
- Avoid high-pressure spraying, especially on old stones as
details and surface finish may be washed away leaving it unprotected
from the elements.
- Reset stones, repair where necessary.
- Obtain the advice of a local
monument dealer; check
- Fill in sunken graves and reseed after the cemetery
has been mapped.
- Provide for a maintenance program. Forming
a "cemetery" or "Memorial
Association" is necessary. See state laws.
- Promote your project in the local news