Prepared by John B. Grimes (firstname.lastname@example.org). Comments, suggestions eagerly solicited.
If something can be done easier, I am all ears.
The following is a recommended kit of items necessary to “attack” a properly grown over
cemetery. The premise of this list is to bring everything, within reason, that you will
need. If you don’t bring it, you will suffer trying to do what needs to be done without
the stuff you need to do it with. If you do bring it, and you don’t need it, all you have
to do is take it back home. This “kit list” is not an exercise in finely honed efficiency,
but in what it takes to do a nasty job with as much effectiveness as possible. It is based
on overkill - so use your judgment. If you have not seen the graveyard, err on the side of
BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING AT THE CEMETERY - LOOK IT OVER CAREFULLY FOR POISON IVY OR POISON OAK.
THIS STUFF WILL RUIN YOUR WHOLE DAY.
1. Shovel or Military entrenching tool (folding shovel): This thing is invaluable
for hacking, digging and prying knocked down grave stones up and/or over. Get one at a
surplus store. A regular shovel is fine, just takes up more space in your vehicle.
2. Chain saw kit: (extra chain, gas (fill the gas can when you are approaching the
area where the cemetery is, otherwise the fumes will drive you from an enclosed car -
disregard if you have pickup truck), chain bar oil, and 2-cycle oil, hearing and eye
protection, chain bar wrench, screwdriver). Ballistic Nylon chaps (made for serious
chain saw users) are very good at warding off the most aggressive briars as well as an
errant chain saw.
3. Saw(s): Folding Game or Camp saw; and/or Bow Saw.
4. Lopers: - long handled cutters/clippers for saplings and branches.
5. Clippers: - hand, garden. same as 3, but for more numerous heavy briars or roots.
6. Probe: - essential for finding headstones that have fallen over and been covered
with roots, ivy, leaves and dirt. I use the handle portion of a paint roller. Straighten
the metal rod/axle and sharpen the end. This then screws into the three part paint roller
extension and provides a great tool for probing into dark piles of briars or sticking into
the soil listening for the distinct sound of metal on a large, dense stone.
7. STRONG flashlight: - for peering into dark copses of briars or shining across the
face of a tombstone to determine if there is any engraving.
8. Stiff brush or Whisk Broom: - for cleaning dirt out of engraved letters and
cleaning the face of an overturned tombstone. I would not recommend a wire brush - too
aggressive on the face of the tombstone.
9. Brush Axe: - this is a large, oddly shaped chopping tool for clearing brush -
-if you have one bring it. If you don’t, do without unless clearing graveyards is your
life’s work. It is a cumbersome tool to use, so don’t buy one.
10. Machete and file: make sure you have a heavy machete and a file or other sharpener
to sharpen it in the field. If you have brought a chain saw file in the chain saw kit,
that will suffice. CAUTION: A machete is dangerous to use - it can easily richocete into
your leg or other part - so use with great CAUTION.
11. Two pairs of leather gloves: (a hapless friend who has decided to join you at the
last minute deserves your consideration of having a 2nd pair of gloves). If you want the
best, get the Train Engineer kind with the large canvas cuffs that cover your wrists -
particularly if you have to do war with briars.
12. Wear Jeans trousers or other very tough material trousers and bring a Jean jacket
or similar tough jacket - the briars will shred anything less. (Carhart brand work clothes
13. Boots are the preferred foot wear for an afternoon soiree at the overgrown cemetery.
14. Plenty of bug repellent (if it is bug season), and sunscreen and a hat that will
cover your neck. The Avon product “Skin So Soft” is, inexplicably, the worlds best bug
repellent - this stuff is awesome and if you are not on friendly terms with bugs it is
indispensable. It is not the easiest stuff to find, but its worth the search. Add 5-7
drops of deet (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) to the “Skin So Soft” for the best protection.
“Off” or “6-12” are good substitutes. “After Bite” or other bug bite treatments should be
added to your First Aid Kit. Most repellents will keep chiggers and ticks away - but a
thorough search and shower after your endeavors is a good idea. Snakes - boots, gloves and
heavy pants are good assurance (not perfect) against snake bites. Except for Copperheads,
Moccasins, Rattle Snakes, and Coral Snakes, which are of course serious dangers, most other
snakes will cause no harm and are as anxious about you as you are about them and will quickly
leave the area. Further, their bites are essentially harmless - far less problem than bee
stings, especially if you step on an underground nest of yellow jackets. Take a can of
Hornet Jet Spray - this kills ‘em almost instantly.
Recording your efforts:
1. Bring a clipboard and paper and pencils/pen. Make sure you carefully describe
how to find the cemetery, its orientation and layout. There is no such thing as too much
information on how to find a cemetery, especially when off the beaten path.
2. Map and Compass: bring Coast and Geodetic Survey Topographical map and mark the
cemetery location on it. Compass is important in describing the direction of roads/paths.
3. Prepare a Cemetery Layout. BE SURE you make a drawing that lays out the position
of the gravestones so that anyone following you can determine what has been found before
and what and where else one needs to look for additional stones.
4. Recorder - if by yourself you may wish to use a small recorder for reading the
inscriptions - particularly if you are not going to photograph them.
5. A large, inexpensive, can of shaving cream.
6. A rubber spatula such as is used for spreading body putty at a car body shop. They
can be purchased very cheaply at most auto part stores. A 4” or 5” metal putty knife also
works, but for the purist, a metal object scraping across a headstone is anathema. This
spatula or putty knife is used to spread shaving cream over the face of the grave stone,
forcing the bright, white, shaving cream into the engraving on the stone. (Note: The purist
will claim that you should not use shaving cream. While I have heard this, there has never
been a shred of evidence to convince me that the occasional application of shaving cream is
going to do ANY harm.) Certainly a well conducted photo survey of a graveyard, particularly
a small family plot that is no longer being cared for, and the forwarding of the results of
your efforts to your state Archives, will do more to preserving the information than any
other thing you can do, as it obviates the need for others to come to the graveyard and go
through the ordeal of clearing it (and possibly damaging some stones in the process) and
“defiling” a headstone with shaving cream every decade.
7. Rubber window washing rubber squeegee, about 9” or 10” in width (an old windshield
wiper works in a pinch). This tool will scrape away the shaving cream on the surface of
the stone leaving an amazingly clear and readable stone face, suitable for photographing.
You will be amazed at how unreadable headstones become crystal clear. Now, you can use your
hand for all of this, but by the time you have done two or three stones, you will be covered
in shaving cream, as will your camera, tools, friends, bushes, etc. It is diabolical stuff.
8. Paper Towels - to keep the shaving cream at bay and wipe your sweated brow.
9. Camera with flash and, if terrain allows, a tripod. An electronic flash is very
useful in helping to render a sharp photo even when you are shaking from exhaustion. I
STRONGLY recommend you photograph each gravestone, and then take several overall pictures of
the Cemetery for perspective. There have been so many independent studies that have been
fraught with understandable errors, that having photographic evidence is invaluable in
defending your data. Also, handwritten notes are notoriously hard to read when you are doing
all the work and recording too. (camera, flash, extra film, extra batteries, tripod,
light meter.) With today’s digital cameras not photographing your work is just plain ……….!
If you don’t own one, beg or borrow one.
10. Tape Measure: Its a good idea to get the dimensions of the cemetery (if its small)
and to measure the position of the gravestones. This will help in finding “missing”
gravestones as you work and will be the basis for later “finds”.
11. Best of all possible worlds for small family cemeteries is to pin-point their location
with a GPS receiver. This device connects with the military Geo Positioning Satellite system
and provides, for all practical purposes, an exact longitude and latitude position on the
planet of your location, e.g. the cemetery, so that it can be easily located. A good Topo Map
will also give good results in determining longitude and latitude location of the cemetery.
12. If you have a friend with nothing to do for the day, particularly if that friend has a
limitation that will not allow them to get involved in the hard work of clearing the cemetery,
get them to come along - they tend to be invaluable in keeping good notes, and quietly poking
about and finding things that in your frenzy of accomplishing the clearing, you would have
missed completely. Believe me, this works wonderfully. If someone other than yourself is
taking notes, review progress of the note taking to ensure you understand how the notes are
being taken. Everyone uses a different mental template and you may not be able to reconstruct
what is clear to your note taker but not to you.
13. If you have access to a four wheel drive vehicle, bring it. Also, bring along a bunch
of heavy rope. Anytime you take rope anywhere, make sure you bring a “Come-a-long” or
“Portable Mule”. You will find a good use for it, believe me. These items are invaluable in
ensuring that a tree falls where you want it too, should you have to cut one down, or for
pulling a mess of briars or fallen brush out of the cemetery.
14. FIRST AID KIT: essential item.
16. Type up your notes no later than the next day so your memory of what you saw is fresh
17. Finally, make sure you get permission to enter the property, and leave it cleaner than
when you arrived. Before you walk away, look over the area to make sure you are not leaving
anything - especially paper, cans or other trash.
North Carolina Cemetery Survey
a) Name or Names of cemetery__________________________ b) County________
c) City, town, community, or township ____________________________________
d) Specific Location ___________________________________________________
e) Property owned by __________________________________________________
f) U.S.G.S. Topographic Map: Quadrangle ________________________________
1) Cemetery Coordinates: Latitude ____?___'____" Longitude ____?___'____"_
2) Cemetery number on map __________________________________________
a) Public:_____ Municipal _____; County _____; State _____; Federal _____
b) Private: ____ Family (name__________); _____ Church (denomination_______)
____ Other, explain __________________________________________
c) Status: ____ Abandoned ____ Maintained, but not used _____ Currently used
d) Size: Approximate number of graves ____ Approximate size of cemetery _____
e) Type: _____ American Indian; _____ Black; _____ Slave; _____ White
_____ Other, Explain
3. Accessibility to Public
a) _____ Unrestricted; b) _____ Restricted, explain _________________________
a) ___ Well maintained and preserved b) ___ Poorly maintained
c) ___ Overgrown, easily identified d) ___ Overgrown, not easily identifiable
e) ___ Not identifiable as a burial site, but known to exist through tradition or other
means. Explain: ____________________________________________________
5. Cemetery Enclosure
a) Is the cemetery enclosed by a wall, fence, hedge, etc.? ____. If yes, specify
how it is enclosed _____________________________________________________
b) State condition of wall, fence, hedge, etc. ______________________________
6. Tombstones or Makers
a) Are stones or markers present? _____; b) If yes, are they inscribed? _______
c) Number of readable stones/markers _____; d) Date of last known burial: ______
e) Date of earliest known burial _______; f) Are there unusual stones? _________
Describe them. ________________________________________________________
g) Have markers been damaged? _____; If yes, by farm animals? _____
Vandalism ____; Farming operations? _____; Industrial operations? ____________
Custodial Care? _____. Explain: ______________________________________
7. Note any hazards imperiling the cemetery's existence _________________________
8. Has this cemetery been listed in an existing published or unpublished cemetery
survey? _____. If yes, explain ___________________________________________
9. Historical or other special significance of cemetery, if any _____________________
10. Any other information: _________________________________________________
Canvasser:___________________________________________ Date: ______________
This form has been prepared for use of the Committee for the Study of
Abandoned Cemeteries, a group created in 1978 by the North Carolina General
Assembly to study the number, nature and condition of North Carolina's cemeteries.
Inquiries concerning the study whould be addressed to Cemetery Survey, North
Carolina Division of Archives and History, 109 East Jones Street Raleigh,
North Carolina 27611.
NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL STATUTES Article 10
Access To And Maintenance Of Private Graves and Abandoned Public Cemeteries
S.65-74. Entering public or private property to maintain or visit a
private grave or an abandoned cemetery with consent
Any of the following persons, with the consent of the public
or private landowner, may enter the property of another to discover,
restore, maintain, or visit a private grave or abandoned public cemetery:
(1) A descendant of the person whose remains are reasonably believed
to be interred in the grave;
(2) A descendant's designee; or
(3) Any other person who has a special personal interest in the
grave or abandoned public cemetery.
S.65-75. Entering public or private property to maintain or visit a
private grave or an abandoned public cemetery without consent
(a) If the consent of the landowner cannot be obtained, any
person listed in G.S. 65-74(1), (2), or (3) may commence a special proceeding
by petitioning the clerk of superior court of the county in which he has
reasonable grounds to believe the deceased is buried, or in the case of
an abandoned public cemetery, in the county in which the abandoned public
cemetery is located for an order allowing him to enter the property to
discover, restore, maintain, or visit the grave or abandoned public cemetery.
The petition shall be verified. This special proceeding shall be in
accordance with the provisions of Article 33 of Chapter 1 of the General
Statutes. The clerk shall issue an order allowing the petitioner to enter
the property if he finds that:
(1) There are reasonable grounds to believe that the grave or abandoned
public cemetery is located on the property or that it is reasonably necessary
to enter or cross the landowner's property to reach the grave or abandoned
(2) The petitioner, or his designee, is a descendant of the deceased, or
that the petitioner has a special interest in the grave or abandoned public
(3) The entry on the property would not unreasonably interfere with the
enjoyment of the property by the landowner.
(b) The clerk's order may:
(1) Specify the dates and the daylight hours that the petitioner may
enter and remain on the property;
(2) Grant to the petitioner the right to enter the landowner's property
periodically, as specified in the order, after the time needed for initial
restoration of the grave or abandoned public cemetery; or
(3) Specify a reasonable route from which the petitioner may not deviate
in all entries and exits from the property.
SUBCHAPTER I. GENERAL PROVISIONS.
SUBCHAPTER V. OFFENSES AGAINST PROPERTY.
SUBCHAPTER VI. CRIMINAL TRESPASS.
Damages and Other Offenses to Land and Fixtures.
§ 14 147. Removing, altering or defacing landmarks.
If any person, firm or corporation shall knowingly remove, alter or deface any
landmark in anywise whatsoever, or shall knowingly cause such removal, alteration
or defacement to be done, such person, firm or corporation shall be guilty of a
Class 2 misdemeanor. This section shall not apply to landmarks, such as creeks
and other small streams, which the interest of agriculture may require to be
altered or turned from their channels, nor to such persons, firms or corporations
as own the fee simple in the lands on both sides of the lines designated by the
landmarks removed, altered or defaced. Nor shall this section apply to those
adjoining landowners who may by agreement remove, alter or deface landmarks in
which they alone are interested.(1858-9, c. 17; Code, s. 1063; Rev., s. 3674;
1915, c. 248; C.S., s. 4319; 1993, c. 539, s. 86; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c).)
§ 14 148. Defacing or desecrating grave sites.
(a) It is unlawful to willfully:
(1) Throw, place or put any refuse, garbage or trash in or on any cemetery;
(2) Take away, disturb, vandalize, destroy or change the location of
any stone, brick, iron or other material or fence enclosing a cemetery without
authorization of law or consent of the surviving spouse or next of kin of the deceased
thereby causing damage of less than one thousand dollars ($1,000); or
(3) Take away, disturb, vandalize, destroy, tamper with or deface any
tombstone, headstone, monument, grave marker, grave ornamentation, grave artifacts,
shrubbery, flowers, plants or other articles within any cemetery erected or placed to
designate where a body is interred or to preserve and perpetuate the memory and name
of any person, without authorization of law or the consent of the surviving spouse or
next of kin, thereby causing damage of less than one thousand dollars ($1,000).
(b) The provisions of this section shall not apply to a professional archaeologist
as defined in G.S. 70 28
(4) acting pursuant to the provisions of Article 3 of Chapter 70 of the
(c) Violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor. In passing sentence, the
court shall consider the appropriateness of restitution or reparation as a condition of
probation under G.S. 15A 1343(b)(6) as an alternative to actual imposition of a fine,
jail term, or both.(1840, c. 6; R.C., c. 34, s. 102; Code, s. 1088; Rev., s. 3680; C.S.,
s. 4320; 1969, c. 987; 1981, c. 752, s. 1, c. 853, s. 4; 1993, c. 539, s. 87; 1994, Ex.
Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c).)
§ 14 149. Desecrating, plowing over or covering up graves.
(a) It is a Class I felony, without authorization of law or the consent of
the surviving spouse or next of kin of the deceased, to knowingly and willfully:
(1) Open, disturb, destroy, remove, vandalize or desecrate any casket,
human remains or any portion thereof or the repository of any such remains, by any means
including plowing under, tearing up, covering over or otherwise obliterating or removing
(2) Take away, vandalize or destroy any stone, brick, iron or other material
or fence enclosing a cemetery, causing damage of more than 1000 dollars ($1,000);or
(3) Take away, vandalize, destroy or deface any tombstone, headstone, monument,
grave marker, grave ornamentation, grave artifacts, shrubbery, flowers, plants or other
articles within any cemetery erected or placed to designate the place where any dead body
is interred or to preserve and perpetuate the memory and the name of any person, causing
damage of more than one thousand dollars ($1,000).
(b) The provisions of this section shall not apply to a professional archaeologist as
defined in G.S. 70 28(4) acting pursuant to the provisions of Article 3 of Chapter 70 of
the General Statutes.(1889, c. 130; Rev., s. 3681; 1919, c. 218; C.S., s. 4321; 1981, c.
752, s. 2; c. 853, s. 5.) §