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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 techniques.

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.



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The Archer Association
A Clearing House for the surname ARCHER and variants.

The Archer Association was formed in 1983 and since then has published
The Archer Quarterly, 200 pages, indexed annually.

The Archer Quarterly is no longer published, but back issues are available,
and the data therein is available for searching on request 

Anyone searching for an Archer family or one of the many variants can contact:
P. O. BOX 6233
McLean, Virginia 22106

or E-Mail George W. Archer at:






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