Tips on Grave Site Spring Cleaning and Flower Planting

With Spring finally here in most parts of the United States, it is time to be thinking about checking up on the last resting places of our loved ones who have gone on before us.

Whether its time for your annual visit or maybe you haven’t been for some time, spring is a great time to plant and do some general maintenance. Most people visit around Memorial Day. Cemeteries usually have caretakers that mow the lawn and pick up litter, but they don’t usually do any individual gravestone management. Before you head out  you may want to think about  bringing some supplies in case you need to clean the gravestones themselves as well as planting flowers etc.

Over the course of time signs of damage can begin to show on gravestones. Weather and pollution can create many different situations that can cause serious damage.

By following a simple cleaning procedure that is used by professional conservators, you can easily keep your loved ones gravestones clean, readable and prevent any future deterioration.

But before you tackle cleaning a stone you first will need to determine if the gravestone really needs to be cleaned. It can be easy to mistake the natural patina of aging for dirt.  The color of marble gravestones can change naturally over the course of time.   You need to use care when cleaning, because you can cause more damage to a gravestone that is already flaking or peeling, so these stones may be best left untouched or looked at by a professional conservator.  So only clean a gravestone if it really needs it.

Things to look for when a gravestone is in need of cleaning are: plant growth, soiling, and staining which are caused by things like moss, lichen, algae, fungi, mold, and other plant life.  These types of things growing on gravestones can be very harmful and if left untreated, these growths can cause gravestones to weaken, crack, and split over time.

When looking for algae, fungi, and lichen, they can be green, gray, black, red, orange, yellow, blue, or even brown in color.  All these organisms can damage the gravestone by trapping moisture on the stone and just beneath the surface of the stone and then when there is a temperatures change, this moisture can freeze and thaw causing expansion and contraction within the stone, which leads to weakening or cracking the stone.  Plants, like grass, ivy, moss, trees, bushes and ferns that grow on or near gravestones can be damaging also, because their roots can penetrate the stone and cause splitting, or can cause the stone to shift, putting it off balance and possibly falling over and breaking.  So when you are doing your plantings do make sure they have room to grow and not interfere with the stone. And when your plantings become too mature, dig them up and plant small young planting again.

Another component of plants that can be damaging is the acid they contain. Marble is composed mainly of calcium carbonate. Lichen secretes an acid that dissolves calcite and can cause serious damage to the surface of marble gravestones to the point that they become unreadable.

Gravestones that are flat on the ground are very easily damaged by dirt, leaves, grass clippings and even mud. The minerals in soil such as iron or copper can stain gravestones and sandy soils can act as sand paper and wear the outer surface of a stone. Upright gravestones can also be damaged from strong winds particularly if they are in a sandy region.

Pollution from city traffic and factories carry pollutants such as acid rain, that can change the appearance of gravestones.  Even bird droppings can stain gravestones. Gravestones near trees or bushes are at risk for staining from sap.  Overhanging tree branches can drip their sap onto gravestones. The sap contains resins which can cause staining and be difficult to remove. So again, be aware of what you are planting for plants and how large they will grow.

Here is a list of things that are helpful in cleaning your gravestones:

  • Water
  • Spray bottle, bucket, or hose
  • Soft plastic scraper
  • Soft bristle brushes
  • Wooden pick
  • Biological Solution
  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves

Weather related suggestion:
When planning a visit  to the cemetery, it would be best if it is an overcast day or partly cloudy. This will be more comfortable for you and the cleaning process will not dry as quickly.  This is especially important if the gravestones you are cleaning and doing plantings for are in direct sun.  Or you possibly go early in the morning or closer to early evening time when the sun is not so hot. 

Water is the most important thing to bring if the cemetery does not provide it. If they do provide a water source, then remember to bring a bucket or jug just in case there isn’t one available. Water should be used first to gently wash away dirt, soil, and dried leaves or grass clippings. Stones is very porous and absorbent and if using a cleaner, spraying with water will help keep the cleaner more on the surface.

When you are ready to clean the gravestone, wet the entire surface with water. Use a soft plastic scraper to gently remove plant growth, such as moss or lichen. Scrapers should be softer than the stone.

When using a brush be sure to use a soft bristle brush. The brush should be made of natural fibers or soft nylon. Be sure to use brushes that do not have any metal or rough edges as it could accidentally scratch the stone. You may need to use a variety of brush sizes for different areas of a gravestone. Even an old toothbrush are work pretty well on lettering or engraved designs.

A wooden pick can be useful to remove lichen or moss that may be growing in indentations or engraved lettering.

Be sure that the surface of the stone is wet before you use cleaners and continue re-wetting the stone while you are working on it to avoid allowing the cleaner from to dry on the surface.It is best to start cleaning from the bottom of the stone and work your way up. This will minimize the effects of streaking if you are using a cleaner.

Cleaners used on gravestones should be the gentle possible. D2 Cleaning Solution. D2 is a gentle biocide and very effective for gravestones that are covered in biological growth such as lichen, moss, fungi, algae, and plants. D2 Biological Solution was designed by conservators and is recognized as the official cleaner of the Department of Veteran Affairs National Cemetery Administration for cleaning U.S. military gravestones. There are several kinds of cleaners on the market. Before choosing one be sure to read the label, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and make sure it is biologically safe and suitable for the type of gravestone you are cleaning, marble, granite or metal.

And don’t forget to wear Safety Glasses and Gloves for your own protection.

Work a small area at a time. Spray the cleaner generously on the area and allow the cleaner to sit on the stone for about 3-5 minutes. Then, gently scrub the stone in small circular motions with a soft brush. Work the cleaner into all indentations and lettering. Keep an eye on any damage to the stone and be careful that you are not applying too much pressure that could cause the damage to worsen. If you see flaking, stop and reassess where you should clean the area and think about whether you should consult with a professional.

If needed spray a second round of cleaner on the gravestone. Allow to sit again for about 5 minutes. Remember work in small sections. Keep the gravestone wet as you work by continually spraying it with water and cleaner.

Finally, rinse the stone when you are done cleaning, making sure not to leave any visible cleaner on the surface.

Cleaners such as D2 Biological Cleaner continues to clean the gravestones on its own for a few weeks after the initial cleaning.  As the cleaner seeps into the pores of the stone it will kill more biological growth.

Here are a few reminders of what not to do:

  • Never use common household cleaners such as bleach.
  • Never use chemical cleaners that have strong acid or salt bases.
  • Never use power tools, such as sanders or drills with wire brushes
  • Never use power washers with pressure over 300 psi
  • Never rub the gravestone surface with hard-bristled brushes
  • Never scrape the gravestone surface with any metal

Here are a few reminders as to what you should do:

  • Always use the gentlest cleaning method possible
  • Read and follow product manufacturer’s guidelines
  • Use safety practices such as gloves and eye protection.
  • Test a small area before cleaning the entire headstone
  • Keep the stone wet as you work
  • Always get the approval of other family members before cleaning

If you are planting or digging up bushes or flowers you will need to bring:

  • Shovel
  • Hand saw
  • clippers

By maintaining and caring for the gravestones of your loved ones’ you are not only showing your love and respect and how much they mean to you, but you are helping  to preserve their last resting place for future generations.


My Journey with DNA Genetics and Genealogy! Part 2

Using DNA testing in combination with my genealogy research has been very successful and at the same time very intriguing.   Last month I explained to you that I have been doing genealogy for decades and had come to a point in genealogy that they call a brick wall on four branches of my family tree. So I decided to take a DNA test to see if it would give me any new insight on any of these branches. I choose to go with which is one of the four most popular DNA testing sites. The other three being, and  Currently has over 95 Million users, 2.0 Billion Profiles, 8.9 Billion Historical Records and over 41 Million Family Trees on their website.

Since I have received my results from MyHeritage I have learned how to use my genetic DNA results with my genealogy. I am using some screen shots from their website to help explain some of my DNA results to you and I have blanked out my Matches personal info for privacy reasons. To really get a good understanding of how MyHeritage works you can watch this video:

We as humans are more similar to each other than we think. All people share 99.9% of their DNA sequence in common. Only the remaining 0.1% differs from one person to another. Depending on how much DNA I share with my DNA Matches determines if we are  close or distant relatives. This will show  significant similarities between their DNA and mine within that 0.1%. For every DNA match, it shows the estimated relationship between me and the other person as well, based on the quantity and characteristics of the DNA that I share with that person. In the lower right corner of my login page, it shows that  I currently have 4686 DNA Matches. When I first opened my results four weeks earlier I had 3576 DNA Matches, so you can see that as more people test their DNA at MyHeritage the amount of my matches can continue to increase.
My Ethnicity Estimate results shows that my DNA traces back to 8 Ethnicities, 97% from Europe, (43.1% Irish, Scottish, and Welch, 13.2% English, 5.9% Finnish, 4.9% Scandinavian, 21% Sardinian, 9.8% Greek, 2.1% from Northwest Africa. These results come from very early ancestry links.



This map view of my Ethnicity Estimates shows the approximate areas. Usually most companies that offer Autosomal DNA testing will give you an Ethnicity Estimate, but they may be different from company to company due to the formulations that they use. An Autosomal test is on your 22 Chromosomes which contain  shared DNA from both your paternal and maternal sides

In the below screen shot is a first cousin once removed (who we will call “John”)  currently has the highest amount of DNA to me of all my Matches on  We share a total of 537.8cM (CentiMorgans). The higher the total DNA the closer the relationship to the match.  Meaning if I had a match that had approximately 3600 cM that would most likely be a parent or a sibling match. There could be other relatives who have had their DNA tested, but they may have tested with another company like or so unless I test with those companies I would not know about their DNA Match.

My cousin “John” has a family tree on MyHeritage with 213 people in it. After viewing his family tree I was able to see how we are related on my paternal side. Not everyone that has a Match with you includes family tree information and not everyone is a member of MyHeritage.

The Shared Matches below show the percentage of relationship with myself (on left) and with “John” (on right). In this first Shared Match you can see that there is a person who is more closely related to “John” than me. It is so high that MyHeritage suggest that this Match could be his son and they suggest that that person  may also be a 1st cousin once removed to me.

It turned out that this Shared Match is “John’s” son and is my 1st cousin twice removed. To have a better understanding of relationships, here is a relationship chart to help you to understand  cousin that are removed relationships. Removed basically means each generation above or below me.


MyHeritage gives you a view of all 23 Chromosomes and where my Match’s DNA and mine match. Below is a view of 22 of my 23 Chromosomes and where “John” matches on each of my Chromosomes.


MyHeritage has recently added a really nice tool that they call a Chromosome Browser. This tool helps me to compare my DNA Matches with other DNA Matches and myself. I can compare up to 7 Matches at a time by clicking on the ones I want to check. This has been really helpful in finding out which of my Matches are truly related and on what side of my tree (paternal or maternal).




When I compare them it will show me on which Chromosome they match with me and the others. As you can see these two people are very closely related to each other besides me.



If a DNA Match has a family tree available, I can get more insight about how the two of us may be related. I can also contact my DNA Matches to exchange information and ask questions.

To better learn from which branch we are related I have looked at my family tree and their family tree and found a common ancestor that we both are related to. In the beginning I started out with a small family tree on MyHeritage website by adding three generations, which is a total of 7 people. This helps MyHeritage and my DNA Matches to be able to see our connection.

MyHeritage has been emailing me when they have discovered people that could be related to me which they call Smart Matches or Instant Discoveries. My online family tree with MyHeritage has grown to over 1,200 people from these Matches.  I can also use their search screen  to possibly find missing people from my tree.


I have been able to break through two of the four brick walls. This has been amazing to finally complete the connection with these two branches on my paternal side. My journey continues to find the other two branches on my maternal side.

I have downloaded my Raw DNA file from MyHeritage and uploaded it to  and to It is free to upload to these two sites. They both provided DNA Matches with their own databases.  From the results I have found a few matches that were the same as on MyHeritage, but there are many that are different. I believe this is because of where people have their had DNA testing done.  So not all databases are the same, because not everyone tests at the same or more than one place and so I have been able to find several more matches with these two other sites.

I would have to say that I find DNA genetic genealogy very interesting and know that there is still a lot more to learn in order to make the best use of all the information that I have found.

I do recommend that if you are interested in having your DNA test done that you do your homework first. Meaning learn as much as you can about DNA genetics and then decide what you really want to learn about yourself. Is it who your related to or where your ancestry came from?

Next time I will give an overview of my results on and   Wishing you all the best in your search.

My Journey with DNA Genetics and Genealogy!

I have been doing genealogy for over 4 decades, going to libraries, vital records repositories, city clerks, historical societies and surfing the world wide web for genealogy related websites. I have also subscribed to several magazines, societies, and websites. And   I have spent countless hours walking through cemeteries, and interviewing relatives, but there was one thing I had not done to help me in my ancestry search and that was DNA testing.

After years of research I have run out of ideas as to where to look for more documentation on a few  of my branches that I have had no success finding. These certain individuals just didn’t leave enough of a paper trail for me to find them.  I have come to what is known as a genealogy brick wall, so I decided to take a different path  and have my DNA tested in hopes that it may give me some new leads on my family tree.

Back in 2000, two companies: based in Houston, Texas and based in Oxfordshire, England) started out offering the opportunity for genealogists to use DNA to aid in finding the family connections.  Oxfordancestors has recently closed, but FamilyTreeDNA continues to grow. In the early days it was quite expensive to have your DNA testing done and the testing was still in its infancy. Now day there are several companies that offer DNA testing services.  Testing methods have improved and some companies offer testing of MtDNA and YDNA, along with Autosomal DNA, I’ll explain what these are shortly.These companies have been creating databases of the DNA information from the people that have had their DNA done and some also  have family tree information. It has been 18 years since this endeavor began and millions of people have now had their DNA done, which has helped to create huge databases of genetic information. People are not only using the information from DNA matches to help them in their genealogy research, but people who were adopted are using DNA testing to find their biological families. Websites such as,, and, just to name a few are helping people to find these DNA matches.   And people are learning where their ancestors may have come from by the ethnicity estimates that are provided when you have your Autosomal DNA tested.

The DNA test itself is very simple, and depending on which company the testing is done with you either have to swab the inside of your check or spit into a small vial and  then mail the sample back to the company. It is harder to decide what type of test to have done and with whom to go with for the testing then doing the test itself.  There are currently three main types DNA test, which I mentioned early, Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA), which is the DNA passed down to sons and daughters from their mother, but only daughters can pass it on to their offspring. Y-Chromosome DNA (YDNA), which is the DNA passed down to sons from their fathers, and only sons can pass it on to their sons. The third test is the Autosomal DNA (AtDNA), which is made of  22 pairs of Chromosomes. We receive 50% of our DNA from our father and 50% from our mother.  We have a total of 23 pairs of Chromosomes. The 23rd pair are different in that they are sex chromosomes. Our mother has two X X Chromosomes, one from her father and one from her mother and our father contributes a X to his daughters and a Y chromosome to sons.

Each of the companies that provide DNA testing offer a little different take on your results. They have chagnonfamilytreetools on their websites to help you to understand your results and connect with your matches.

In  November  2017, on Black Friday several of the DNA testing providers  offered discounts on their DNA testing services, so  I decided to  buy an  Autosomal DNA test from  It was $49 plus $12 shipping. MyHeritage is an online genealogy platform with web, mobile, and software products and DNA testing services. This website was first developed and popularized by the Israeli company in 2003.  I purchased my DNA kit on 11/28/17. I received it 12/10/17. Their test is a swab of the inside of your cheeks.  I did the test and put it in the postage paid mailer and mailed it out the next day. Check out this Youtube video on how to take a DNA test with MyHeritage   You have to activate your kit on their website and create a family tree account. This lets them know you received it and that the kit # belongs to you. This number is for you DNA results and will help with your matches.This is a Youtube video link that explains  what happens with your DNA sample .  To see your matches’ family tree information on this website  you will need to have an annual membership with  There are some people who keep their family tree private. There is several perks with each of their membership levels. They offer three different options. Premium, Premium  Plus and Complete.  I did enter three generations of my family tree (myself and family, my parents, my two sets of grandparents). You can build a family tree on their website or download they tree builder software which is free. Here is a Youtube Video to show you how to use it. . They also have a mobile app. The family tree builder software can sync with your online account. All smart matches can be downloaded into your tree. You can build a tree from scratch or import a GEDCOM file.   You can build your tree on line only if you want. See this Youtube video for building a family tree on line.

Before I received my DNA results  I started receiving emails from letting me  know when they found possible family tree matches for me, but  I wasn’t able to view anyone family tree because I  hadn’t purchased  a membership yet. Then I received a 50% discount off their memberships in February, so I decided to purchase to the Complete membership level. You can join for 1 -3 years. I joined for one year.

While waiting for my results I decided to read and learn as much as I could about DNA genetics and genealogy. One of the best books that I have read is “The Family Tree guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy” by Blaine T. Bettinger.  It helped with understanding what DNA is and how it works. He gives a ton of useful information on the different DNA testing providers and 3rd party services to help with interpreting your results.   I learned about a few other websites that once I had my DNA results I could upload my raw DNA file and they would also provide their interpretation of DNA matches and information. I also joined a few Facebook groups: DNA Genealogy, AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, and DNA genetics. It is interesting to read about other peoples experiences with their DNA results.

I was emailed on 1/27/2018 that my results were ready. I went to my account on their website. Clicked on to the DNA tab and my results came up.

It showed me that I had DNA traces from 8 Ethnicities, 97% from Europe, (43.1% Irish, Scottish, and Welch, 13.2% English, 5.9% Finnish, 4.9% Scandinavian, 21% Sardinian, 9.8% Greek, 2.1% from Northwest Africa. Well I was surprised that there wasn’t anything listed from Canada or North America. Most of my ancestors through the mid1600s came from Canada. So it tells me these ethnicities estimates go back to a lot early ancestry links. Next it showed me that I have 3576 DNA matches. The list started with highest total of DNA which was a 1st cousin once removed. We shared a total of 521.9 cM (CentiMorgans). The higher the total DNA the closer the relationship to the match.  Meaning if I had a match that had approximately 3900 cM that would most likely be a parent or a sibling match.  I don’t know of anyone in my immediate family that has had their DNA tested. Also if they have they may have tested with another company like AncestryDNA or 23andMe.  Because I didn’t have a MyHeritage membership when I first received my results, I was not able to view my matches family trees if they had one. You can see how much DNA a match has and you can contact the person to ask questions without having a membership.   Not everyone that has a match with you includes family tree information and not everyone is a member. MyHeritage has a few really nice tools you can use such as their Chromosome browser to compare the match with your DNA. I talk about this in a future blog.

I have been going through the closest matches and have found connections on both my mother’s and father’s sides. It’s too early in my research to determine if I have any matches to the branches in my tree that I have not been able to connect.

I have downloaded my Raw DNA file and uploaded it to website and to It was free to upload to these two sites. They both provided DNA matches with their own databases.  From the results I have found a few matches that are the same as on MyHeritage, but many that are different. I believe this is because of where people have their DNA testing done.  So not all databases are the same, because not everyone tests at all or with more than one company. I have been able to find several matches, but my closest match thus far has been a 1st cousin once removed on my mother’s side

There is one DNA testing provider that has the largest database and seems to be the most popular from what I have learned since I started this DNA journey and that is  One reason may be because they advertise their DNA testing on TV.  They started out as a genealogy website and have billions of family trees that you can match up with. They do have an annual membership to access the family tree information, but your DNA information is accessible without a membership. They only offer  Autosomal DNA testing at this time.   I decided to test with them also, but instead of buying my DNA test kit from them directly I went on eBay and bought a new sealed test kit for half of the cost of what AncestryDNA charges. I paid $38.00 with free shipping. The kit arrived within a week and I activated it on AncestryDNA and then mailed it to them in the postage prepaid mailer after I did the test. They have your spit in two small vials. So besides the kit being cheaper I didn’t have to pay for the shipping cost that AncestryDNA charges.  I have gotten confirmation that my DNA test sample has arrived to their lab, but they have not started to process it as of yet. From what I have read on AncestryDNA Facebook group it can take 6-8 weeks from when they receive it before you get your results. This must be due to the high volume of samples that they receive.  They will email me the results when they have processed it.  I do plan to download the raw data file and upload it to familytreedna and gedmatch to see if there is any difference between the two samples that I have done.

I would have to say that I find all this DNA stuff very intriguing and know that there is still a lot more to learn in order to make the best use of all the information that it has been revealed to me.  Next month I will get into more details of what I have learned from my results.   Wishing you all the best in your search.

You Are Related How?

Understanding How You Are Related To Everyone In Your Family Tree

Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you were trying to explain to them how you were distantly related to someone? I’m talking about someone other than your mother, father, sister or brother.  When talking about our relatives we commonly use the titles of cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparents, great grandparents, but when talking about someone who is very distantly related it can get a little tricky, so we try to explain using as much detail as possible. We may say “he is my father’s brother, my uncle Tom’s daughter, Karen’s grandson Michael”, which is quite lengthy and can be somewhat confusing. It would be easier to say Michael is my first cousin twice removed on my father’s side, which has the same information, but less confusing.

The level or the degree of a cousin’s relationship is based on the most recent direct ancestor that the two of you have in common. So let’s start with our closest and most direct cousin and work our way back.

Who is Your First Cousin?

Your First Cousin is a child of your aunt or uncle, also known as your parent’s niece or nephew.  This person is considered to be your first cousin. You share one set of grandparents with this cousin, but you do not share the same parents. Look at the chart below and find yourself (You) and then find your first cousin. That is pretty straight forward relationship.

What makes them a Second Cousin?

Your second cousin is the grandchild of your grand-aunt or grand-uncle, also known as the child of your parents’ first cousin and you share the same set of great-grandparents with your second cousin. You do not have the same grandparents though.  Their grandparents are your grandaunt and granduncle. More commonly, many people use great aunt or great uncle, but technically they are grandaunt and granduncle. They are the siblings of your grandparents. Look at the chart below and find yourself and then find your second cousin.

How about those Third Cousins?

Your Third Cousin are fairly distantly related, but you both share the same set of great-great-grandparents. Your third cousin is the child of your parents’ second cousin. They are the great-grandchild of your great-grand-aunt or great-grand-uncle. You share a set of great-great-grandparents with your third cousin.  As for your Fourth cousin, they share a set of great-great-great-grandparents with you.  Look at the chart below and find yourself and then find your third cousin.

Do You have any Double First Cousins?

Just to complicate matters let’s talk about Double First Cousins. If two siblings let’s say brothers in one family marry two siblings, sisters from another family and each couple has a child, these two children are called double first cousins. The word double in addition to the first cousin term is because they share the same four grandparents. In typical, first cousins share only one set of common grandparents, while double first cousins share both sets of grandparents.

What does the term “Once Removed” mean?

The term “once removed” is used to explain the relationships of cousins of different generations. A cousin who is “once removed” means one generation before or after you. Your first cousin’s child is your first cousin once removed, and your mother’s first cousin is also your first cousin once removed. One was born from the generation after you and the other was born in the generation before.  Removed cousin relationships are measured by the generation difference, not age.

Twice removed means that there is a two-generation difference. As in example above Michael is first cousin twice removed. Your grandmother’s first cousin would be your first cousin, twice removed because again you are separated by two generations.  The person was born two generations after or before you.

Cousin relationships can be any combination of first, second, third etc, and also be once, or twice removed, and so on. Look at the chart below and find yourself and then find a first cousin once removed and a first cousin twice removed.

How is one a Grand or a Great?

Grandparents and great-grandparents are very commonly used titles for the parents and grandparents of our parents. Aunts and uncles become grand when they are the siblings of grandparents, though we rarely call them grandaunts or uncles, we usually call them great aunts and uncles, but technically, your parents’ aunts and uncles are your grand aunts and uncles. The aunts and uncles of your great grandparents would be your great-grand aunts and uncles.

Also, if your niece had a child, it is common for you to say “my niece’s child Amber”, but the child can also be referred to as your grandniece. Your grandniece’s child would be your great-grandniece, this is identical to that of grandchild and great grandchild.

The chart below is an example of the levels/degrees of family relationships This chart serves as a visual to help determine the correct titles of your relatives. ItIt It represents the relationships for either your mother’s or your father’s side of the family.


Here is a pdf copy of the above family relationship chart.  I hope that you now have a clearer understanding of how you are related to the members of your family tree and have an easier way of describing your connection to those relatives. For more helpful genealogy articles:


How To Clean and Care For Gravestones


 Being able to recognize any damage to  a gravestone before  cleaning it can help prevent  more damage from happening and knowing what cleaning methods and materials to use will help in preserving the gravestone.

What are Gravestones made from?

Gravestones are made from some of the finest natural materials on earth. Many of these natural materials are created into beautiful pieces of art by skilled craftsmen.Over the centuries a variety of materials have been used for creating gravestones. The type of material used depended on the era, and what materials were available in the area. Some of the materials used were: marble, granite, sandstone, limestone, bronze and wood.

Different types of gravestones will require different cleaning methods. Marble and Limestone need to be treated  more gently than granite. Where granite can be cleaned every 2-3 years, marble, sandstone, or slate stones should be cleaned  no more than 8-10 years.

Wooden headstones should only be cleaned by an expert. Even if the marker looks stable, you can’t tell if it is weather damaged on the inside  or at its base in the ground.

Cast iron headstones should be cleaned in the same manner as granite gravestones. Do not try to remove rust or flaking metal as it could harm the inscriptions, symbols and icons on the gravestone.

White Bronze (zinc) gravestones  were meant to “weather” so the ionization of the metal should continue to build in the welds and make for a sturdier hold on all joints.

How to Check for  Damage and Cleaning Needs:

Because gravestones are exposed to airborne pollution, such as acid rain, chemical residues from fertilizers, severe weather conditions and mineral deposits from water some maintenance is usually needed.

Gravestones that are in direct contact with the earth are constantly drawing water from the ground and then evaporating it along its surface. This water may have dissolved salts, minerals such as iron and copper and other pollutants.

You should first determine whether or not the stone actually needs cleaning. Many people think that signs of aging are dirt or grime. Marble and other materials do naturally fade over time.

Examine the gravestone for any flaking, scaling, cracks, or eroding granular surface. If you see these signs of damage, you may want to consult with a professional before cleaning. Use extreme caution if you decide to proceed. Cracks are an obvious sign of damage. Any damage can be an indication that the stone is weakened. Avoid putting pressure on the weakened areas. It is better to leave some dirt than to put additional stress on the stone. If there is soiling present, determine the type. Types of soiling could be carbonaceous or sooty soiling, urban grime, dirt, organic-algae, fungi, lichens, mosses, stains-metallic, oils. or efflorescence–salts.

Again, if there is any damage or weakened areas on the stone you may still want to consult with a professional.

Lichens and Fungi:


Lichens is the most common to see on a gravestone. Lichens are living organisms that are similar to a fungus. They come in many different colors, such as grey, green and yellow. Lichens can harm gravestones by trapping dirt, organic debris and moisture on the surface of the gravestone. Because gravestones are somewhat porous, the lichens also can trap these contaminants under the surface of the stone. Moss and other molds can also be present, which are  usually caused from weather conditions.

What Tools Are Needed?

Here is a list of suggested tools that are best to use when cleaning gravestones. When using a scraping device it is important that it is softer than the stone. Hard objects damage the outer layers of the gravestone, making it more susceptible to the elements.

Sprayer bottle – Use for wetting down the stone or spot cleaning
Clippers – Use to clean away any grass or weeds.
Bucket With Lid – To store your supplies and used as a seat.
Rubber Gloves – Protect your hands cleaning products.
Nylon Brushes – Use only soft natural or white bristled.
Plastic Scraper –Only use plastic or wood.
Q-tips – Used to get into small cracks.
Sponges – Soft sponges.
Tooth Brushes –To get in small spaces.
Water – Wetting, cleaning with and rinsing
Whisk Broom – To sweep off the stone before cleaning.
Paint Brushes – soft for cleaning engraving, etc
Towels or old T-shirts
Protective Eye ware – Especially if using cleaners or scraping debris

Cleaning Solutions – What Not to Use or Do:

There are many detergents, cleaners that should not be used to clean gravestones, along with tools that can cause damage.

Chlorine bleach  should never be used for cleaning gravestones or monuments. Household bleaches often contain sulfates that may cause exfoliation of the surface of the gravestone  and as these salts dry out and re-crystallize in the pores on the surface. Bleaches can also produce light brown staining after a period of time.
Hydrochloric acid can cause rust staining and the deposition of soluble salts.
Sodium Hydroxide mixed with water forms a caustic soda and can cause the formation and deposition of soluble salts and rust staining.
Fantastic contains 2-butoxyethanol (butyl cello solve), alkaline builders, water, fragrance, and dye. It is not recommended for cleaning any porous or polished surfaces.
Formula 409 contains ethylene glycol, even though a non-ionic detergent, alkaline builders, water fragrance and dye and is not recommended for masonry or polished surfaces.
Spic-n-Span is an abrasive cleaner containing sodium chloride, sodium sulfate, sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate and ammonium carbonate. It will form and deposit soluble salts.


Marble and limestone, for example, are easily dissolved by acidic cleaners, even in diluted forms. Chemicals can react with components in mortar, stone, metals, wood or brick. They can create soluble salts, which can cause a buildup of these salts beneath the surface of the stone eventually causing spalling.

Do not assume that the label of contents is a complete list of all the chemicals contained in a household detergent product.

Tools To Never Use:

Never use metal brushes, metal scrapers, metallic scrubbers or abrasive pads of any type, including, “Brillo” and “Scotchbrite.” Never use a sandblaster or pressure-washer on any gravestone or monument. Never use pressurized water to clean a gravestone or monument. This includes water coming directly from a hose that is under pressure.

What Cleaners Should You  Use Use?

Time and weather can cause a gravestone to look less than pristine. Once you have accessed that your gravestone is dirty and in need of cleaning you will may need to choose a cleaning product. The following is a list of several acceptable cleaners. You may find that water and some gentle scrubbing is all you need and not have use a cleaner at all.

Detergents Non-ionic (e.g., Photo Flo – a Kodak Product, or Trion-X 100) are recommended for cleaning gravestones. They are electrically neutral cleaning agents that do not contain or contribute to the formation of soluble salts. Non-ionic detergents are available from conservation, janitorial, and photographic suppliers. A suggested cleaning solution is one-ounce of non-ionic detergent to 5 gallons of water. Always read the label carefully to ensure that it says “non-ionic”.
Acetic acid (e.g. vinegar) is less aggressive than other acids, solutions have been recommended for the removal of general soiling from limestone. Oxalic acid is not recommended for general cleaning, but is recommended for rust staining removal on light-colored granites, one pound to one gallon of water.
Calcium Hypochlorite (e.g. Chlorine) is effective for the removal of biological growth; mix one ounce to one gallon warm water. Available from swimming pool suppliers. Requires a lot of thorough rinsing with water and Hydrion Paper test strips for pH testing.
Ammonium Hydroxide (e.g. household ammonia) diluted 1:4. is recommended for cleaning light colored stones and is particularly effective for the removal of biological growth. Requires a lot of thorough rinsing with water and Hydrion Paper test strips for pH testing.
Quaternary Ammoniums (e.g. algaecides) are especially effective for the removal of stubborn black algae and biological growth. Also available from swimming pool suppliers.

Weather Conditions:

Before you start, be aware if there is a frost or freeze warning. It will take a period of days, perhaps weeks, for the water to evaporate from the pores of the stone, and surrounding area. Also if it is a hot sunny day, be sure that you constantly keep rinsing the stone so that the cleaner you are using doesn’t not dry on the stone.

How Do You Clean?

You should use some personal protective equipment such as aprons, rubber gloves, shoes; and goggles or face shields, especially if you are using cleaners.

Once you have checked the stone over closely and determined that it is not damaged, and safe to proceed then you are ready to begin the cleaning process. If you are using a cleaner, follow the directions on the label and be sure that it is well mixed with the proper ratio of water.

Start by pre-wetting the stone with water. Pre-wetting prevents excessive penetration of cleaning solutions into the stone and facilitates softening of soiling such as lichens or moss. Wet your sponges in your bucket of water and gently begin wiping down the surface of the stone.

Remove any growth and build up lichens or moss by using plastic scrapers that are soft and flexible and can get the job done without damaging the gravestone.

After you have removed the first layer of dirt or grime, you can use your brushes. Wet the brushes, then use them by gently scrubbing in a circular motion over each part of the stone. It is best to start at the bottom of the stone and work your way up. This will help you to avoid leaving streaks. Keep the brush wet by dipping it into a bucket of clean water or running water from the hose over the bristles. When cleaning carvings and lettering, use a soft bristled toothbrush.

If you feel that water alone is not accomplishing the results you would like, move on to whatever cleaning product you have decide to use. Again remember to clean from bottom to top of stone to avoid streak staining the stone and frequently rinse off the stone with water. (You may want to test your selected cleaner before a general application. Test in a small inconspicuous area and evaluate the results when dry.)

If lichens or moss is a problem, after scrapping you can use an ammonia mixture. Combine one-part ammonia with four parts water. Using a clean sponge, gently scrub the affected area with the ammonia mixture. After you are done, rinse with plain water.

For a more natural method, people have used snails to clean their stones. Snails consume many of the materials that grow on gravestones, such as lichens, mold, and fungus.

After cleaning and rinsing the entire gravestone, wipe it with paper towels or soft cloths to prevent the stone from streaking as it dries. Residues from cleaning solutions can create a blotchy appearance, provide a medium for bacterial action, and cause staining. Do not allow cleaning solutions to dry on a gravestone.

Keep a Record:

Gravestones do not require regular cleaning. Although it might seem natural to want to frequently clean them. You should clean the stone approximately 2-3 years unless it is marble, sandstone or limestone, which should only be cleaned every 8-10 years. Write down the date each time you clean the stone. This will help prevent you from over cleaning.

If the whole process sounds too difficult for you to do, you can talk to the cemetery caretakers and see if they provide any service maintenance plans or if they know of someone that provides professional cleaning service.

When Should You Consult an Expert?

If you have any concerns about the condition of the gravestone, it is a good idea to talk to an expert. For example, an expert will be able to tell you the approximate age of your stone. They will also be able to identify the material of the stone, and be able to inspect it for damage. Contact the cemetery to ask if they can recommend someone you can consult with.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Tips for Interviewing a Relative- Method of Genealogy Research

One of the methods used in doing genealogy research is through interviewing a relative.  When sitting down with someone and listening to their story through questions that you are asking can be very interesting. There is a lot of information that you can learn from interviewing older members in your family. Your parents, grandparents or even aunts and uncles can be a wealth of knowledge. They may have had the opportunity to meet or even got to know ancestors that you didn’t.  So through their oral recount, you can collect some very good facts.

Story telling has been a tradition in many families and these stories can be filled with a lot of information that you might not be able to find elsewhere.   They add  real emotion and feelings to your family history.

One of the difficult parts of oral genealogy research is that it can’t always be verified.  The person you are interviewing  may or may not be able to give you dates, names  and locations.

As we all know sometimes storytelling can become embellished to make it more exciting or important. That is true with most storytelling.

If you have someone you would like to interview, here are few  tips on  interviewing that may help.

  • Contact the person you would like to interview and set up a time to meet with them. Depending on if you have to travel a great distance, you may want to be sure to set plenty of time with them, so that you don’t have to go back to finish your interview. If you live close by, then you might be able to set up a series of meetings.
  • A day or two before the interview, contact the person to be sure that your meeting is still set. With older people, they sometimes have good and bad days and may not feel up to meeting you at the last minute, so you may  need to reschedule.
  • Depending on the person you are interviewing, it may be helpful for them to have a copy of the questions you are going to ask them in advance. This gives them time to think about things. You may also want to ask if they have any photos or memorabilia that they would be willing to show you in relation to the questions you will be asking.
  • You may want to think of something to give them as a token of thanks for letting you interview them. It can be something as simple as a box of chocolates or a gift card to a local store or restaurant. This will let them know how much you appreciate them and their time.
  • You will need to decide how you will record the information during the interview. Do you plan to videotape it, audio record it or simple take notes? If you plan to video or audio record you will want to check with the person ahead of time to see if they are OK with this method. Some people are very intimidated about having themselves videotaped or audio recorded.  Audio recording can be  somewhat less intimidating.  Either of these two forms of media make a great addition to your family history. The advantage of video or audio is that you capture the image of the person,  their voice,  along with every word, which saves you from worrying about missing information as the person is talking and you are taking notes.
  • Putting together a list of questions to ask helps keep the conversation more in line with the information that you are interested in. Put down as many questions are you can think of. You may not be able to get all of them answered, but having too many questions is better than if you run out and get home to realize that there was other information you should have asked. The list of questions is also helpful when the interviewee begins to stray off the subject. If that happens you can politely bring them back on course with asking the same or another related question.
  • Make sure that the equipment you are using is in good working order. Make a list of what you need to bring, such as power cords, batteries, etc.
  • If you are videotaping it will be important to set up your camera on a tripod. You will need to make sure that you are close enough to the interviewee to get clear audio and have good lighting.
  • It is best if there are as few distractions as possible, such as the TV or a radio playing. Set the camera off to your side slightly so you can control it easily. The person you are interviewing does not have to stare straight at the camera.
  • To start an interview, make sure that the interviewee is comfortable and relaxed. Start with some light conversation and thanking them for taking the time to meet with you. Keep in mind that older people can tire easily, so you may need to take short breaks.  See to it that they have something to drink, especially if they have been talking for some time.
  • Depending on the time that you have set for your interview and the length of the answers given, will of course determine  how many of your questions you will get answered. Put your most important questions  at the start. If the conversation leads to  you thinking of questions that you don’t have on your list, you may want to quickly write them down, so that you don’t forget to ask them.
  • You may want to ask if they have any photos or documentation, etc that they can share with you.  Don’t ask to borrow  them, but instead ask if you can take a photograph with your camera or phone. Older people can be very attached to these types of things and don’t want them out of their possession. Things like war metals, letters, certificates, documents, photos, etc., can help verify the oral information that they are sharing.
  • As  you come to the end of your interview time, you will want to double check your list of questions. You can also ask your interviewee if there is anything  that they would like to add to your family history.
  • Thank them and present them with the token gift you have for them.
  • Be sure that they have your contact information.  They think of something else  and can contact you.

Everyone is different and every interview is unique.  Collecting family history through oral interviewing can be very interesting and very rewarding. Learning about someone’s life on a personal level is an honor.  

Some of the things mentioned here  are pretty obvious, but you would be surprise how things can get over looked. I hope these tips are helpful to you in your genealogy research.  Please contact me if you have any questions.

Wishing you all the besting in your seeking.