June 16
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One Genealogy Art Project that can truly be an adventure is doing head stone rubbings.

While a photo of your ancestors headstone can be informative, a good headstone rubbing is art that says “I went there – and I connected with the past”.

Basil Mattingly Headstone Rubbing

To find the cemetery your ancestor is located in can be as easy as asking other family members where they are or if you are lucky you can find the location at Findagrave.com where if you are lucky you may find a picture of the headstone in question so you have a better idea of the size and condition of the headstone. Other sources of information regarding the cemetery can be found from the mortuary which is often listed in obituaries or on the death certificate. If you know the town where they died the public library often has cemetery list or the local Genealogy or History Society may be able to help you.

It can take a fair amount of planning or traveling but once you know where your ancestors headstones are, the battle is half fought.

Before you head to the cemetery you will need to put together your to-go bag with some basic supplies and while it may seem cumbersome, I can tell you from personal experience that it is easier to track your supplies down at home than to waste your valuable travel time trying to track down wide white paper.

Some items you will need include:

Jumbo Crayola Crayons

  • Wide White Paper . . . it does help to know the size of the headstone or grave marker but you have several options. Wide freezer paper works well if it is going to be damp because you can put the wax side down or against the head stone. White wrapping paper from the dollar store or from the shipping supply department of a department store works well. For an extra large headstone white muslin may be your answer, it also folds and packs well if the finished product will have to go in a suitcase.
  • Rubbing Wax . . . Most times I use black. You have the option of using jumbo crayons (package of 8 colors) or lumber crayons (available in black, blue or red at home improvement stores) or purchasing a cupcake size block of rubbing wax made specifically for the purpose (also available in black, red, brown or green).  Wax Rubbing Kit
  • Tape . . . to hold the paper to the headstone. Something that will not leave residue on the stone. Wide blue painters tape is a good choice.
  • Soft Brush, Spray Bottle and Towel . . . to clean dirt, debris and bird poo off of the headstone. The towel to dry stone if it is raining or possibly kneel on.
  • Mailing Tube and Rubber bands . . .  large enough to protect your project. If all else fails you can wrap your finished product back around the roll the paper came on facing inward.
  • Map to the cemetery and of the cemetery, available at the cemetery office to help locate the grave site.
  • Mosquito/bug repellent, Sunscreen and knee pads . . . for your comfort

Call ahead to the cemetery office and make sure it is ok to make rubbings in the particular cemetery and then hope for good weather.

Never use any type of cleaning solution or stiff brush on the headstones for it may cause deterioration.

Once you arrive and have found the headstone, take note of the other graves in the immediate area. I cannot count the times that I found other relatives that I had no clue what happened to . .


With supplies in hand cut a piece of paper large enough to wrap around the face of the headstone, tape it well and using the side of the crayon or rubbing wax create your image.


When you are done I highly recommend taking the rubbings to a copy center to have copies made for other family members or reduced to a manageable size for framing, scanning or inclusion in family histories before framing the original.

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