Update: How NOT to Clean a Tombstone for Find-A-Grave

I recently wrote (at an article about a person who damaged tombstones in a Tennessee cemetery by using a wirebrush to scrape the stones, making the letters more visible. Of course, it also created irreversible damage in the process.

Newsletter reader “ljellis2000″ now has posted an update: the culprit has been found, arrested, and charged with a felony offense. The man reportedly said, “… that he did not realize his actions were causing any harm.”

How NOT to Clean a Tombstone for Find-A-Grave

Here is a sad bit of news: A man is suspected of damaging several historic graves with a wire brush recently at the New Providence Presbyterian Church on Stoney Point Road in Surgoinsville, Tennessee. He apparently used a wire brush to make the engravings on the tombstones easier to read. Now here is the worst part: he was “cleaning” the tombstones so that he could take pictures to be posted on!


On July 15, church committee member Bill Davidson reported to the Surgoinsville Police Department that several tombstones had been “scrubbed” — possibly with a wire brush — causing damage to the old stones. The dark stain that builds up on tombstones over time was scrubbed clean in streaks over the engravings, and in some cases the engravings were rubbed almost smooth — to the point that the words are no longer legible. Davidson stated that some of the damaged tombstones date back to the 1700s, and some belong to Civil War veterans.

Historians Work to Preserve New England Church Records Of Early American Life

Now, in a regionwide scavenger hunt, James Fenimore Cooper Jr. and Margaret Bendroth are rummaging through New England church basements and attics, file cabinets, safes and even coat closets, searching for records of early American life. The historians are racing against frequent church closings, occasional fires, and a more mundane but not uncommon peril: the actual loss of documents, which most often occurs when a church elder dies and no one can remember the whereabouts of historical papers. The records, especially those that are not bound into books, are often in poor shape.

Scan and Digitize Your Books for $1 Each

I have recently been scanning genealogy books so that I can “downsize” into smaller living quarters. As I move closer to retirement, I realize that someday I will move to smaller living quarters without room for all the books and magazines I have accumulated. I won’t even have room for the required bookshelves. Also, there is no way I can jam another book into the over-crowded bookshelves I already own. The answer seems obvious: digitize the books! Thousands of books can be stored in a very small computer or even in a tablet computer or a flash drive.

The problem is that my progress to date has been slow. Scanning a book is a tedious process, and I haven’t completed the scanning of very many books. One online service promises to do the job at a modest price: one dollar per 100 pages. The same service will also scan documents, photographs, business cards, and even the old greeting cards from relatives that I have been saving all these years.

Comparing Formats for Still Image Digitizing

Which is better for long-term digital image preservation: TIFF or JPEG or PNG images?

The Still Image Working Group within the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) recently posted a comparison of a few selected digital file formats. These are sometimes called target formats: they are the output format that you reformat to. In this case, the article compares formats suitable for the digitization of historical and cultural materials that can be reproduced as still images, such as books and periodicals, maps, and photographic prints and negatives.

The report is available in two parts. The first article at provides background information and describes the tried-and-true uncompressed TIFF format. The second article at describes the advantages and disadvantages of JPEG-2000, and PNG.

Historic Jamestown at Risk from Rising Seas

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell got a firsthand look Thursday at the effect of climate change on ever-receding Jamestown island, concluding that America’s first permanent European settlement is clearly vulnerable to rising seas. Led by National Park Service rangers, Jewell trekked around the island, where some sections now lie beneath the James River, and heard of the devastation in 2003 when Hurricane Isabel raked the low-lying landscape. The storm left many parts of the island underwater and destroyed thousands of artifacts retrieved from archaeological digs. Many are still being restored.

The National Personnel Records Center Fire of 1973: Not Everything Was Destroyed

One of the big losses to genealogists and to many others occurred on July 12, 1973, when a fire destroyed many records at the National Personnel Records Center in Overland, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The records storage facility was operated by the National Archives and Records Administration and housed military service records. The fire destroyed approximately 16 to 18 million official military personnel records. While that is a staggering number of records, it still represents only about one-third of its 52 million official military personnel files.

Sadly, the records had not yet been digitized for long-term preservation nor even copied to microfilm, the standard method of preserving paper documents at that time. The records existed only on fragile paper and were susceptible to fire, flood, mildew, and other dangers. The building was essentially a large warehouse, filled with filing cabinets. There were no firewalls or other fire-stopping devices to limit the spread of fire. No heat or smoke detectors were installed in the building, nor was there a fire sprinkler system to automatically extinguish a fire.

Volunteers Needed to Help with Digitisation of Unit War Diaries

Following the online release of almost 10,000 unit war diaries earlier this year, The National Archives (of Great Britain) is now conserving, sorting, digitising and itemising thousands more diaries from the WO 95 series as part of the First World War 100 programme. Your help would be appreciated.

Eagle Scout Project to Photograph 50,000 Graves

Fifteen-year-old Hunter Boyer has chosen a unique Eagle Scout project to benefit the past, present and future at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, USA. Boyer’s goal is to recruit enough volunteers to take photos of over 50,000 graves using the smartphone app BillionGraves.

Use D/2 Biological Solution to Clean Gravestones

Genealogists and anyone else interested in preserving cemetery tombstones and other objects exposed to the weather should become familiar with D/2 Biological Solution. It is useful for cleaning tombstones without causing any damage to the stone.

The solution is safe for use and does not harm the tombstone. Even the highly-respected Association for Gravestone Studies recommends the product in the organization’s FAQs (Frequently-Asked Questions) at

“Treat a wet gravestone with D/2 Biological Solution, scrub into a lather using a plastic bristle brush, and smooth the lather into the inscription to make the letters more readable. Afterward, rinse the stone thoroughly.”

Fred Kuplicki and about 40 Volunteers to Document about 9,000 Headstones in an east-side Detroit Cemetery

Fred Kuplicki is nearing the completion of a 23-year-old project, in conjunction with the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan, to uncover, identify and compile a digital, photographic database of burials at the cemetery. He and about 40 volunteers are bringing their digital camera/phones to the cemetery to photograph about 9,000 headstones dating to the cemetery’s founding circa 1889. His meticulous research during that time, aided by a few other volunteers, has helped to recover lost records for burials spanning to the late 1880s.

You can read the details in an article by Patricia Montemurri in the LSJ web site at

Wouldn’t YOUR genealogy society like to undertake a similar project to benefit other genealogists?

FamilySearch Announces a New, Free Family Photo and Document Scanning and Preservation Service

FamilySearch has equipped more than 2,800 of its local family history centers in North America with new Lexmark MFP multifunction scanners and printers. Family history centers outside the U.S. will receive theirs in the near future. The Lexmark MFPs are easy to use and can digitally scan your documents and photographs quickly. Best of ll, the software from Lexmark that runs on the MFP lets the user scan their documents and photos directly into a free account where the documents and photos can later be tagged, explained, shared with others, or attached to ancestors in your free FamilySearch Family Tree. You can also save the digital copies to a thumb drive and take them home with you.

Details may be found in an article by Paul Nauta in the FamilySearch Blog at

Your Old CD Collection Is Dying

If you’ve tried listening to any of the old music CDs lately from your carefully assembled collection from the 1980s or 1990s, you may have noticed that many of them won’t play. Adrienne LaFrance reports in the Atlantic at, “While most of the studio-manufactured albums I bought still play, there’s really no telling how much longer they will. My once-treasured CD collection — so carefully assembled over the course of about a decade beginning in 1994 — isn’t just aging; it’s dying. And so is yours.”

Fenella France, chief of preservation research and testing at the Library of Congress is trying to figure out how CDs age so that we can better understand how to save them. But it’s a tricky business, in large part because manufacturers have changed their processes over the years and even CDs made by the same company in the same year and wrapped in identical packaging might have totally different lifespans.

How One Library Helps Its Patrons Create Personal Archives of their Important Records, Pictures, and Videos

Samantha Thomason, web developer at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and chair of the Virginia Library Association’s Local History, Genealogy and Oral History Forum, has published a great article describing how one public library helps its patrons digitize and preserve important documents. Thomason writes:

The personal digital archiving program recently started by Jordan Welborn, technology librarian at Virginia’s Campbell County Public Library System, is a great example of how to put theory into practice and how to get started quickly and cheaply.

A One-Person Business to Protect Families’ Memories

Ron Taylor runs a tombstone cleaning business. He cleans and repairs both tombstones and metal grave markers.

An article in the Rocky Mount Telegram quotes Taylor as saying, “I was doing genealogy research, and I was going out to the cemeteries to check for dates on some of my relatives. I started to see how bad the stones looked, so I started cleaning them, and I did the same thing for some friends.”

Flood at Washington State Archives Caught “in the Nick of Time”

An employee discovered a flood that started in a breakroom at the Washington State Archives about 7 a.m. Friday, and state officials scrambled to save priceless historical documents.

Washington State Archivist Steve Excell said the state is very lucky that a pipe burst on a Friday as opposed to a Saturday, otherwise the water would have been running from a pipe like a garden hose all weekend. “We happened to catch it in the nick of time,” Excell said. “Imagine a water hose running.”

Suggestion: The Time to Digitize Historic Items is NOW

WARNING: This article contains personal opinions.

It seems that every two or three months, I publish sad news about important records and artifacts being lost forever. Sometimes fires damage or destroy library or archive buildings and all the contents: including records, books, family histories, cemetery records, plat maps, military uniforms, and more. In other articles, I have written about similar losses caused by floods, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, burst water pipes, leaky roofs, and even about buildings collapsing. Genealogists, historians, art lovers, and others often lose irreplaceable items.

With a little bit of planning, the worst of these tragedies could be averted or at least minimized.

Vatican Will Digitize Millions of its Documents

The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 and has around 82,000 manuscripts, some of which date back about 1,800 years. The library is now working to to convert the first batch of 3,000 manuscripts, with more manuscripts to be digitized later.

Vatican LibraryAn article in describes how the process will work. Workers wear gloves and have to remove all jewelry so as to avoid scratching the paper. After each page is digitized, they will be configured for long-term storage as well as be uploaded onto the Vatican Library’s website, where viewers will be able to look at them for free from a variety of angles.

The Restoration and Preservation Mission Restores Abandoned or Neglected African-American Cemeteries

An Associated Press article written by Savannah King describes a very worthwhile project: clearing and restoring an overgrown cemetery on Strickland Drive in Gainesville, Georgia.
It is the fourth cemetery the mission has cleared in its 14 years. Community volunteers are helping to research the genealogy of those buried in the cemetery and will try to contact any surviving relatives.

You can read this interesting story at


How to Preserve Cemeteries: First You Digitize Them

Rutherford County, Tennessee, historians plan to use new technology to solve a big mystery: Whatever happened to the old cemeteries and family burial plots that once dotted the landscape across Rutherford County?

In the 1970s, Rutherford County historian Ernie Johns and others from the Historical Society of Rutherford County took pains to document nearly 800 cemeteries in the county, most of them plots on old family farms. Historians now want to use new technology to digitally map all the old cemeteries and family burial grounds in the county. The digital map of the burial sites will be shared with local planning commissions so historic cemeteries won’t be destroyed by future development.


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