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Grave Concerns: Protecting and Repairing Damaged Historic Cemeteries
Historic cemeteries are often threatened by damage, whether from acts of vandalism or from natural disasters like thunderstorms or hurricanes. Immediate response is often necessary after cemeteries and stones have been damaged, but long-term planning is often the best means to make sure our historic burial grounds are protected for future generations. After a natural or man-made disaster, there are several appropriate steps to take in the care and clean-up of historic cemeteries.

Record the damage

Map all features that have been damaged. Using a cemetery map, mark the stones, tombs, markers, fences, walls, paths, and vegetation that have been damaged. If no map is available, a hand-drawn sketch identifying the location of each feature will serve this purpose.

Record the present condition of each affected feature. Sketch the location of the affected stone and describe the damage. Be precise! Take photographs in addition to the written record, if possible. A good record will include information about the location, the damage, the materials, the condition, and the size of the site and its components. It will also note previous repairs, record inscriptions, identify motifs and design elements of the various features, and indicate where fragments are stored.

Begin the Clean-up Process

Use care. Historic markers are fragile. If there are broken markers, do not step on the fragments. If trees and limbs have fallen on markers, carefully cut limbs away in small sections, carrying them away as you work. Do not let the limbs fall on the stones beneath them.
Photograph the broken markers both before and after the removal of trees and limbs.

Carefully remove pieces of the broken stones, only after double-checking your documentation. Once you have moved a stone, it will be impossible to remember which direction it faced, its precise location, or the details of its construction. Remember, once a gravestone is moved, it doesn't mark anything. At best, it is a memorial to someone who has died; at worst, it is just a rock with words on it.

Do not discard fragments. Fragments that seem insignificant can be vital to later restoration efforts.

Store fragments in boxes, in a dry, indoor, undisturbed location. Record on the box information about the fragment; where it came from, when it was damaged, why it was removed, and the inscription, if possible.

Never write on the fragments themselves!
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Adapted from and used with permission of: Chicora Foundation, Inc. Copyright © 2003 Chicora Foundation, Inc.