Cemeteries are outdoor museums and the gravestones of the people who are buried in these cemeteries are historical artifacts. The name, date of birth, and date of death are carved in stone to record that a person has lived here on this earth. What is craved on these stones is a record of a person who has come before us, the day they were born and the day they departed this life.
Did you know that you should not use any type of cleanser or chemicals to clean a gravestone, because this can cause permanent damage? You should only use plain water, or better yet distilled water, to clean off a gravestone when you need to get a better reading of what is craved on it. I believe that we all have an obligation to learn about what harm we might be causing to these gravestones before we actually do it. With all of the information that we have available to us in books and on the Internet, there is really no excuse for not knowing the irreparable damage that we might be doing to these stones. Just because these gravestones are made of stone doesn’t mean that they are durable.
Last year, while attending a Family Reunion in Kentucky, I saw a tombstone cleaning demonstration where bleach was used as the cleaning agent. The person doing the cleaning told the group of people who were watching the cleaning demonstration to stand upwind of the spray so that it wouldn’t get on our clothes and ruin them. It is too bad that this person did not think of the permanent damage that they were causing to these tombstones as they so generously sprayed the bleach on these old stones. I stood silent as I watched this demonstration because I thought that this person knew what they were doing.
They say that ignorance is bliss, but I say that ignorance is destroying these historical records and artifacts for future generations. If my grandchildren or great grandchildren are interested in family history and they decide that they would like to go to Kentucky to visit the cemeteries where so many of their ancestors are buried, I would hope that they could experience the thrill of walking through a cemetery and finding one of their ancestor’s names carved in stone that marks their final resting place. There are as many as six generations back, beginning with my grandparents, who are buried in various cemeteries throughout Caldwell Co., Kentucky alone.
Here are a couple of websites where you can learn more about protecting and preserving these historical monuments: http://www.gravestonestudies.org and http://www.savinggraves.com.
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