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Restoring Old Cemeteries

by Hilda M. Fife, Theodore Brown and Lyle Littlefield
edited by Jonathan D. McKallip
published by Maine Old Cemetery Association
Updated 2005

Planning and Equipment

  • Choose a cemetery to work on; secure permission from owners of land or town officials.
  • Take pictures "before" starting work, "during," and "after" the restoration.
  • Clothing suitable for protection against heavy growth and sometimes poison ivy. Don't forget insect repellent, drinking water, lunch, other personal needs.

Possible equipment

For general cleanup

  • Saws
  • Scythe or weed eater
  • Ax (for tree roots)
  • Grass clippers
  • Rakes, light weight
  • Pruning shears
  • Lawn mower
  • Weeding tool
  • Edging tool

For righting a stone

  • Probe for finding a stone
  • Hand trowel
  • Garden spade
  • Tripod, pulleys, and strap
  • Measuring tape
  • Burlap or plastic bags
  • Tamping device
  • Sand, gravel, bricks

For cleaning stones

  • Brushes: nylon or fiber bristle
  • Work gloves
  • Buckets
  • Water
  • Camp seat

<< All album photos 4/16 photos
Digging (on the side away from the lean) revealed additional inscription below ground level. Plan of action will have to change.
  • Record cemetery location, both road/map location and GPS location. Send this information to our Website Administrator who will update our online cemetery lookup database.
  • Measure the perimeter of the cemetery. Look for an old fence line.
  • Record inscriptions if not already done. Check MOCA Inscription Project.
  • Include measurements of tombstones and the material they are made of (wood, slate, marble, white bronze, gray/red granite, etc.).
  • Create a plot map where each stone was found; this is helpful in recovering very old cemeteries.
  • DO NOT discard fieldstones - they are probably markers.
  • Cut weeds and tall grass. Trim about stones.
  • Rake up clippings, leaves, trash; put in bags and remove bags.
  • Clear out brush, small "scrub" trees; remove. DO NOT burn trash, brush or leaves inside the cemetery.
  • Prune or cut trees in moderation.
  • Ax out any tree roots that are heaving or breaking stones.
  • Repair and straighten fences, rock walls, plot border stones.
  • Probe for fallen stones. If a probe goes down the same depth (3-10 inches) at several locations, there probably is a stone buried under the soil.
  • Level up stones by hand (first loosen dirt with trowel or spade), or by gently lifting foundation with a tripod, pulleys and straps.
  • Clean stones with brushes and water only. (For stubborn dirt and stains consult an authority on safe materials.) Check with the Association for Gravestone Studies for current recommended procedures.
  • Avoid high-pressure spraying, especially on old stones as details and surface finish may be washed away leaving it unprotected from the elements.
  • Reset stones, repair where necessary.
  • Obtain the advice of a local monument dealer; check references.
  • Fill in sunken graves and reseed after the cemetery has been mapped.
  • Provide for a maintenance program. Forming a "cemetery" or "Memorial Association" is necessary. See state laws.
  • Promote your project in the local news media.
  • Remember to send cemetery data including directions, locations, and/or transcription information to our Maine Inscriptions Program Coordinator and/or Website Administrator who will update our online cemetery lookup database.
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