To Archer Association Main Site
SOME TIPS ON TOMBSTONE READING AND TAPE RECORDING
by George W. Archer
A great deal of relationship data is lost by separating the stones from
their plots, arranging the list in alphabetical order to avoid doing an
index. When doing cemetery readings, do whatever is needed to retain
relationships among the deceased even though you may know most of the
people buried and can annotate the readings to add relationship data. I
recommend reading the stones from the first row and follow row lines
except to read well defined plots that may cross over the rows. Be alert
for footstones that have only initials where the tombstone has
disappeared. Be wary of data on stones made of new materials or using
technologies inconsistent with other stones in the cemetery for persons
for the same age.
Document your method of reading the stones to give you and the reader a
mental map of the cemetery's layout. Better, add an actual map and diagram
the trail you followed making the reading. Be sure to note more than one
person on a stone and read all stones EXACTLY as written without adding
extraneous data or comments. Your comments can be appended later clearly
separating it from the stones' data.
Stones are history. Data on stones reflects what the families wanted
recorded about the deceased and take precedence over your data.
(Errors on stones do occur due to ignorance or stonecutters' errors or
replacement of the original stones by the uninformed.) Do not mix your
data with theirs.
Having spent hundred of hours in hot, humid, fly and chigger infested
cemeteries in Jackson Co., WV with aching back and eyes watering from
strain, here are some down-and-dirty tips on your nose-to-stone reading
Use a cassette tape recorder with an external microphone that has an
on-off switch on the microphone. Do not use a micro recorder, as the tape
is more fragile, difficult to repair. Use 60 min. tapes as these are
thicker and less subject to stretching and taxing the recorder's motors
that change the pitch of the recording. Use fresh batteries; change them
often. Watch your equipment to be sure it is working and audit the tape
occasionally before leaving the cemetery to ensure on-site recovery of
lost data. Pause a moment after turning on the microphone switch to let
the recorder reach operating recording speed.
A tape recorder will free you from the drudgery of recording by hand,
let you focus completely on stone reading, and allow you to annotate and
qualify your readings as you proceed. The comments you make will pertain
to condition of the cemetery, stones, what you could not read with
certainty, guesses about the stone's data, relationships between stones'
positions, etc. It will be awkward to transcribe the tape when you get
home unless you use a $200 transcribing machine that has a setting for
automatic tape backup and variable speed to compensate for the tone shift
and induced by declining battery power. Transcribing one or two tapes
using the recorder you used at the cemetery is bearable, but for extended
transcription sessions, the tedious play, stop, rewind sequences will
become unbearable. Invest in a good transcriber found at most large office
supply stores (Staples, Office Depot, etc.). The same equipment will work
well for any data collection in a library or courthouse as well.
Wear a cap with a bill that shields your eyes from the sun. Wear
sunglasses but take them off to improve vision reading the stones.
For difficult to read stones: If possible, take two readings in the
morning and evening when stones are difficult to read due to light, shadow
or overcast conditions. As a work around, take a large mirror and direct
sunlight at the stone to change the contrast. If water is nearby, pour a
bucket of water on the stone to improve contrast. DO NOT use shaving cream
or other chemical-laden material on stones; they harm the stone's material
integrity. Ditto for using abrasives or brushes to remove lichens and
moss. For very faint data, tombstone rubbings using soft carbon and rice
paper can recover data not visible using the other techniques above
without damage to the stone.
When carvings are faint, try comparing the suspect character with
others on the same or adjacent stones cut by the same cutter. Try reading
the lines backward to slow eyescan and force a letter-by-letter reading
when trying to fill in missing letters. Look somewhat out of focus at the
space beside the missing letters without thinking about the characters and
let your mind fill in the missing letters. It is not logical but it works:
The Osmosis Method.