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August 1, 2014

FindAGrave Volunteer Accidentally Damages Tombstones

FindAGrave Volunteer Accidentally Damages Tombstones
Damaged Tombstones Scrubbed With Wire Brush
One of Tennessee's oldest church cemeteries had several tombstones permanently damaged recently. A FindAGrave volunteer is suspected of damaging several historic graves with a wire brush  at the New Providence Presbyterian Church on Stoney Point Road in Surgoinsville

When questioned the man told police he wanted to get a better photo of the inscriptions on the tombstones for people who had requested photos. After scrubbing the stones and taking his photos, he uploaded them to the FindAGrave website.

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. The cemetery reports that the damage cannot be repaired.

This was an incredibly thoughtless act by a volunteer. It was done out of good intentions but it was a serious error in judgement, and the results were disastrous. But has FindAGrave made it clear to volunteers how tombstones are to be treated? I went to the website to see what warnings or instructions are online for those taking photos. In their FAQ page there is a link to an article "How do I clean a headstone or grave marker?" under the topic Cemetery Preservation. However the link to that article is six screens down the page! Most people are not going to scroll down and read that far. 

Had this volunteer read the article, he would have seen "Unless you are related to the interred on the headstone in question, DO NOT do anything to the headstone. Gravestones should never be cleaned with anything but water and a soft brush. Slate gravestones from the Revolutionary era and Pre-revolutionary era are best left alone due to their delicate nature and tendency to erode. Never apply bleach, ammonia, shaving cream, chalk, flour, baking soda, cornstarch, firm pressure or use anything abrasive." [this is part of the article from]

I personally think their instructions give a mixed message and are confusing. The first sentence says don't do anything if you aren't a relative. Then it goes on to provide information on how best to do something! (cleaning).  Far better to keep these instructions simple and placed prominently on the website where volunteers will see them. The instructions should, in my opinion, be better worded.

I might have said  "Do NOT attempt to clean headstones. Leave all tombstones untouched"

K.I.S.S. is always a good practice to follow.

Read the rest of this story at 'Person of interest' identified in case of damaged historic gravestones at Hawkins church


Michael F Harris said...

At most all I have done is pull some weeds from around the stone.

pewter said...

I used a spray bottle with water to show more shading of the letters.

Anonymous said...

Please don't even think about cleaning the head stones what so ever because the erosion that has accumulated over the years is completely uncleanable and is best left as it is - cleaning makes the erosion more volatile to the stone.

Kin Khronicler said...

Holy molies, from the pictures, this guy didn't just do this to a few stones... it looks like he did this to a LOT of stones in this graveyard. I just wonder how many others he has ruined in other cemeteries? I hope he learned his lesson from the police.

Anonymous said...

How sad. I agree with Michael Harris, only remove weeds. Never touch the stone.