How To Rub Gravestones
This is a very easy process requiring little more than patience, elbow grease, and healthy knees. Professional kits containing archival papers, special rubbing waxes, and instruction guides may be obtained from a store that has genealogy supplies and books. It is not necessary to purchase the kit, perfectly adequate cheaper materials can be found at the local five and dime store. All you must have are: a roll of white newsprint paper, some fat kindergarten crayons, a roll of paper masking tape, and a paper scissors or pen knife. A small stiffbrush for removing moss or dirt clinging to the stones is helpful as well as a small paper bag to store tape remnants and crayon wrappers is a good thing to take along. If you obtain a long cardboard tube, you can store your rolled finished work in it, so the paper won't get crushed on the way home.
To rub a stone, first brush off the old moss and dirt. Then cut a piece of paper approximately six inches higher and wider than the face of the marker. This large margin serves several purposes. First it leaves you an uncolored area of the finished work should you decide to mat it later. Also it provides you with an area on which to tape the paper to the stone that will not intersect with your work and damage it when you are finished. Finally, and most important, it will keep your waxes from rubbing off onto the stone itself.
By taking this kind of care, you won't mark the stone in any way. Unfortunately, careless hobbyists have already vandalized so many stones, and littered so many yards with their uncollected paper scraps that several prominent sites have been ruled off limits to rubbers by rightfully unhappy custodians.
Once the paper is in place, rub the flat side of the crayon gently over the paper in large strokes. Quickly you will see the printing beginning to emerge on your paper. Then fill in areas with closer strokes and deepen the color. As long as your paper remains firmly fixed, you can rub the same area over and over until it becomes legible.
Some stones are so weatherbeaten that they will never deliver a clear image, but a few tests will soon give you the experience to judge those which may prove hopeless. Heavily incised designs do not produce a very clear image. Glossy granite and slate usually produce the clearest images; old marble the least.
Very old stones, tend to sink into the earth. If you suddenly discover that you can't rub the bottom of the legend, brush away the grass and earth at the very base of the stone and keep rubbing. Usually you can pick up the balance of the words to stretch out flat on the ground to complete the rubbing, but the results are worth it.
Before leaving a yard, check around for wrappers or waxes left lying around, and for spare pieces of tape on the back of the stones you rubbed. It's always good to try to leave the cemetery in a little better shape than when you arrived.