The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

June 9, 2013

Frankie Meyer: Rubbings of graves can work better than photos

JOPLIN, Mo. — When compiling family history, researchers invariably become intrigued with gravestones, which are one of the best sources of family information.

Usually, the inscriptions and patterns on the stones can be captured with a camera. But because of the time of day, the size of the inscriptions and patterns and the amount of sunlight, cameras sometimes do not capture all the details.

Because of the limitations of a camera, many genealogists include tombstone rubbings as part of their research.

Although most cemeteries in the Midwest allow rubbings, be aware that many of the Eastern states forbid the use of the technique on old stones, many of which are tall, thin, crumbling and wobbly. Before going to a cemetery, check with the cemetery board or local historical society to see if the technique is allowed.

Although a few people use butcher paper, regular paper or rice paper for rubbings, a better choice is inexpensive pellon, which is a non-fusible, tough interfacing that can be bought at fabric stores. Large, dark-colored crayons make great rubbings, but you can also try charcoal or dark colored chalk.

If you decide to use those two items, you will need to take a can of hair spray so that you can spray the surface of the rubbings when you are finished so the images don't smear.

The first step is to cut a piece of pellon that is slightly larger than the stone. Use masking tape to wrap the pellon around the edges of the stone and attach it to the stone. Next, use the side of the crayon and rub it gently over the surface of the pellon. The details on the stone will appear.

To make the images darker, gently repeat the technique. When you are finished, the pellon can be rolled up or folded.

When traveling to cemeteries located in pastures or similar secluded sites, take loppers and clippers.

Imagine the exasperation of traipsing through brush only to discover that you can't get close to the stone. You may need that equipment to clear vegetation from the area around the stone. Don't forget bug spray, too.

A great website to learn about the meaning of tombstone symbols is When the site opens, click on the section "Gravestone Symbolism." The site has photos of scores of symbols with an explanation of each.

Some symbols tell of the organizations to which a person belonged, while others have meanings such as faith, praise, resurrection, loyalty, truth, friendship, sadness, strength and mortality. Some are letters from the Greek alphabet. According to the site, the overlapped letters XP are the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ, and the letters IHS are the first three Greek letters of Jesus' name.   

Suggestions or queries? Contact: Frankie Meyer, 509 N. Center St., Plainfield, IN 46168 or e-mail





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