Recording Tombstones

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Recording Tombstones
Kentucky History and Genealogy Network, Inc.

Recording Tombstones

Goals and Insights on Recording Tombstones

The Goal of the KHGN, Inc. Cemetery Committee as far as documentation is the accurate documentation of cemeteries in a manner that preserves them for future generations and creates an accurate verified listing of burials stored in the form of a database that is freely accessible to the public.

When you enter and depart a cemetery you should leave it as it was when you arrived,  when you depart, only your footprints are left behind.

All documentation should be based on “Do Not Touch” policy in relation to documenting the actual cemetery. If it can be done without touching anything that is the recommended procedure. Methods in lieu of “DNT” are very limited in respects to alternative methods.


Purpose of the Tutorial

Upon completion of the tutorial the member shall be able to
understand and implement environmentally safe methods that record
cemeteries as well as preserves them.

  1. Member shall be able to understand and display common courtesy
    while in the cemeteries.
  2. Member shall understand the importance of individual property
    rights for landowners.
  3. Member shall understand what important information needs to be
    recorded from cemeteries and why.
  4. Member shall understand the difference between public and
    private cemeteries as well as perpetual care cemeteries and what
    requirements are important between the categories.
  5. Member shall understand the importance of safety hazards and
    how to address them.
  6. Member shall understand how to work in a professional , courteous and congenial manner with the public in order to gain public awareness and the trust of the public.

Cemetery Access While Recording Tombstones

Property owners can provide access to cemeteries on their property, but can determine the frequency of access. However, permission to access the property may be denied to anyone who is not a descendant who is buried at the cemetery. Anyone accessing private property without explicit permission from the property owner is subject to trespassing laws. It is strongly advised that you receive confirmation, in writing if necessary, before proceeding on private property.

Remember, you are there only to document grave markers and collect the information for recording. Do not attempt to upright stones, repair stones or preserve stones. Even unintentional damage to graves, markers and fences is a desecration of a cemetery. Only qualified trained individuals should attempt to preserve or repair cemeteries. Damage can be done unintentionally through perfectly well meaning gestures.


Categories of Cemeteries

There are two (3) general types of cemeteries that are recognized within the Commonwealth. Public Cemetery, Privately Owned Cemetery or Private Family Cemetery and Perpeual Care.

  • Permission must be secured from the landowner to enter into a Privately Owned Cemetery and/or a Private Family Cemetery.
  • Failure to secure permission from the landowner can be cause for trespassing violations to be brought forth.
  • Public cemeteries usually have a curfew of dusk till dawn but this may vary from public cemetery to public cemetery.

KHGN, Inc. Approved Documentation Processes

  • Photographing with a camera or smartphone is the recommended and preferred method of documentation.
  • Using a mirror to lay on the ground in front and at the base of the stone is an approved method on a sunny day. Move the mirror at different angles to reflect the sun onto the marker and create shadows helping to bring out the carvings. This method is for hard to read or illegible carvings that suffer from deterioration of the stone.
  • Placing water  is another approved method to bring out the silhouette of the carvings. You must secure written permission from the landowner before this method can be used. No water can be used on stones when the temperature is at 50 degrees or less or is expected to be at this temperature. Moisture soaks into stone and freezing creates damage to the stone. The granting of permission applies with this process within all cemeteries, whether it be a public or privately owned cemetery.
  • Under no circumstances should chemicals of any kind, whether it be flour or any other household cleaning substances be used on grave markers for any reason whatsoever. Any substance applied  to markers either immediately or over time will cause irreparable damage, many of them doing damage faster than others.
  • The only cleaning solution recommend that should be used on markers are the list approved by the National Park Service. Any of these substances used on markers must be approved by the land/owner.
  • No pressure washers can be used.
  • No hard brushes, grinding wheels, sanding, sandblasting etc.
  • No weed killer around the base of the stone.

Cemetery Courtesy While Recording Tombstones

  • Never photograph someone grieving while at a cemetery. This is a very personal time for them so allow them the dignity and the courtesy to grieve without interfering or imposing
  • Do not interfere or impose on a funeral. If possible come back when the funeral has completed.
  • Do not lean or sit on markers. They could tumble and break or injure you if they fall on your body. It is also very discourteous.
  • Never leave trash at the cemetery. Always take whatever you brought into the cemetery with you.
  • Never move or remove flowers or any item on a grave.
  • Treat each item or stone at a cemetery as if it belongs to someone else.  Give it the respect and dignity it deserves.
  • Know where the actual grave is located and walk around the grave not over it.
  • Never enter a private cemetery without owner permission. Always ask first.
  • Individual property rights and land ownership rights dominate cemetery preservation. Always ask first.
  • Never record or photograph living persons inscriptions on tombstones or information of living persons.

Information to Record

Any information recorded is very much needed. This can be acquired by multiple staff or individuals through one or multiple trips to the same cemeteries.  

  • The primary goal is verified, factual records.
  • All information, photographs and material donated to the KHGN, Inc. Cemetery Project are released into the public domain upon being accepted by the organization.
  • Items are copyleft which means they are free to use, share but can never be copyrighted in their original format by anyone other than the owner and are free to use for the general public.  This is done to ensure other donated material by other individuals does not get deleted from platforms by removing withdrawn items donated by others.
  • GPS Location. Recording the GPS location gives a verified, physical location.
  • Name of the Cemetery. Cemetery names change over time.
  • County the Cemetery is located in. This location can be verified very quickly by an online map and the GPS location. GPS, maps and location all support each other.
  • Photographs. Photographs are the main method of identification.
  • Name on Road Sign, (If different than cemetery name) Cemetery names change over time. The road names are also changed over time due to 911 addresses being added.
  • Road and Cemetery Conditions. Some cemeteries are only accessible during specific times of the year due to snakes, weather, crops, and other issues.
  • Information  About Unmarked/Marked Field stones. Any verbal info from a family member or community member. If there are any special requests or instructions from land owners.

Safety Concerns While Recording Tombstones

  • Insects, reptiles and animals. Oftentimes snakes are present at cemeteries because of the cooling effects of stone as well as dens. Wear high topped boots. Use insect repellent for spiders, mosquitoes and ticks. Consider doing your work during cooler weather when animals are not active.
  • Buddy System, Always use the buddy system. Have someone with you. If you were injured or had a reptile or insect bite how could you get help? Let someone know where you are in case of no phone signal.
  • First Aid. Always have a first aid kit available and within reach in case of an accident.
  • Drinking Water. Bring a supply of drinking water in case of dehydration in warmer weather.

  • Our Community on Social Media
  • Knox County Cemeteries

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