Friday, August 29, 2008

Foiling 'Round in the Cemetery

Last Monday (Aug 25th), Ruth Stephens of Bluebonnet Country Genealogy left a comment on a post at the From Axer to Ziegler blog written by "Linda in Lancaster and lovin' it!" that may be the best thing since sliced bread. Well maybe not, but it was a good tip that I had not heard before, or at least I don't remember having heard before.

Linda had found a well-worn gravemarker that was difficult to read. Ruth's suggestion was "Take a large piece of thin paper and a pencil or crayon and CAREFULLY make a rubbing of the writing. Or you can use aluminum foil. I used the foil trick to be able to read some very old and run-down stones at an ancestor’s grave site. Worked very well!"

I had tried the rubbing technique with crayon and pencil before without much success. But aluminum foil? Earlier this week I wrote about my visit to a local cemetery and there are several family stones there that are hard to read. I have never been able to get good pictures of their inscriptions. They face west, are usually in the shade, and they are quite worn. So, I thought I'd give the aluminum foil trick a try. Ruth is right, it works very well indeed. Thanks, Ruth!

I used heavy duty aluminum foil in the wide roll. I pulled off a piece of foil large enough to cover the front and sides of the stone. Instead of using tape or string or a bungee cord to keep the foil on the stone I poured a little bit of water on the face and both sides. The water provided just enough "adhesive" to keep the foil in place. I used a small, hand-held, semi-stiff bristle scrubbing brush to rub over the surface of the foil. And that brought out the details... Because of the reflectiveness of the foil, this might not work so well in bright sun. However, if you are careful when removing the foil from the stone you'll have the impression to work with later. I'll be posting several examples in the next day or so.

=+= Updated August 30, 2008=+=
The posts below show the results of using the foil technique to aid in reading hard to read markers.


Ruth said...

Hi Becky!
I'm so happy to hear that the "foil trick" worked for you, too. Seems like I got the tip from a book about exploring cemeteries, can't remember. But it worked really great when I tried it at Chatt-Jessie Cemetery in Hill County, TX, where my great-great grandparents and several of their children are buried. It is a beautiful, old rural cemetery, but several of the oldest stones are really in bad shape. I photographed and catalogued that entire cemetery and put the images and inscriptions on my blog, Cemeteries page, if you're interested.

Terry Thornton said...


Thanks for the foiling around. Your before and after pictures shows clearly the value of using foil on hard-to-read stones. My field kit henceforth will contain a roll of foil, water for adhesive, and a brush.

This technique will also be most helpful for "spot" problem areas on a stone --- it can be so frustrating to transcribe everything on a stone but one line or one date --- foil will help.

Terry Thornton

Family Curator said...

Thanks for the info and photo updates, Becky. I wish I had known of this technique when I was in Vermont last month. Have you received any feedback from tombstone preservationists? I understand that rubbings are discouraged, if not prohibited in some cemeteries. Foil seems like a very non-intrusive solution.
Denise Levenick

Becky Wiseman said...

Terry, yes, I have used the technique in just certain areas of a stone that were especially hard to read. There usually isn't a need to do the entire inscription. Also, even if the stone is in bright sunlight this technique helps. You may not think so while the foil is still on the stone but once removed, the foil impression can be held at an angle so that the light enhances it. It really is fun to do and to see the results!

Denise, I haven't heard anything at all from tombstone preservationists. I don't think this process is as "harmful" as a regular rubbing. It doesn't take hardly any pressure at all to get an impression, basically just lightly rubbing your brush across the foil. It certainly isn't any more harmful than "cleaning" a stone. You're not leaving anything behind (no cleaning solution or chalk). And the foil can be recycled! Of course, you'd want to use some common sense. If the stone is in danger of crumbling with a little pressure, then you wouldn't want to do anything that will endanger it.

I showed a couple of the foil rubbings to a cousin who visited from Michigan and she suggested that the rubbings could be framed! Hadn't even thought of that, I was just happy with getting the information from the stones.