- Check that it's okay to take gravestone or tombstone rubbings in your local cemetery. Some headstones may be considered too fragile to take rubbings but on the whole, most people won't mind you taking a rubbing.
- Be considerate if there is a funeral taking place nearby.
- Don't trespass! If the cemetery asks that people keep out, it is for a good reason, most likely your safety or for preservation of the graves.
- Assemble the items needed. You'll need a soft brush, scissors, masking tape, large sheet of paper or rice paper, rubbing wax or a large, sturdy dark colored crayon, spray bottle with distilled water, a clean rag, rubber band and a poster tube.
- Select a suitable gravestone. In choosing a gravestone for a rubbing, look for well defined text and patterns that interest you. If you like how it looks, that should be enough of a reason to take a rubbing of that gravestone. Another reason might be that you're researching the family tree and want to take a rubbing of a specific family member's gravestone. Or perhaps you just want to take a rubbing of a historical gravestone.
- If you can't find a particular gravestone that you know should be in the cemetery, ask the cemetery caretaker to assist you.
- Clean the gravestone. Be respectful when deciding whether it's okay to touch a gravestone. Some look better with the signs of age on them but usually cleaning off moss, dirt, bird droppings, squashed insects, etc. is fine. Start by using the soft brush to take off the easiest dirt build-up, and if needed, wipe over gently using the water sprayer. You only need to clean enough to show the distinguishable features on the gravestone. Some key things to note are:
- Some gravestones are very fragile. If you notice breakage, decay and erosion, err on the side of alerting the cemetery caretaker rather than attempting to clean it.
- Never use anything stronger than water to clean the gravestone. A few spritzes and a wipe with the rag should sufficient. If the dirt is not coming off with this method, then leave it well alone.
- Place the sheet of plain paper over the desired gravestone. Cut off any excess but having a little tuck around the back of the gravestone makes it much easier for you to tape it in place and gives the paper the most stability.
- Hold the paper while you tape it in place. You might also consider using poster tack. Make sure that the tape is easy to remove afterwards and isn't likely to harm the gravestone in any way. Be especially careful to avoid taping over any eroded parts of the stone, as the sticky side will lift out crumbling stone when you remove it.
- Start rubbing. Using the rubbing wax or crayon, begin from outer edges of the headstone and work your way in. This way, you identify the border or edging and can gradually rub in the remaining design outlines. Be sure to get both the text and any patterns used on the gravestone.
- Keep rubbing until the design depth and wax or crayon shading is sufficiently to your liking. There are no rules on what's enough––it's what suits your needs that counts.
- Once completed, carefully remove the tape or poster tack from the back of the gravestone. Roll the rubbing up with care and place a rubber band around it. If you've brought along a poster tube, slip the rubbing inside it for protection on the way home. If you wish to make more gravestone rubbings, select the next one and repeat the steps above until you've made enough rubbings.
- Return home. Once back at home, trim the rubbing into a neat shape along the sides and decide what to do with it next. If you'd like to display it, it can be simply framed on a wider backing of card stock in a nice color or even just tack it straight to the wall as it is. If using for genealogy purposes, you may need to take a photo of it to upload online for other family members.
- It is best to work slowly when you do your rubbing as some gravestones are very fragile. Also, you could tear the paper if you work too fast.
- Some churches or cemeteries may already have pre-made gravestone rubbings. If they do, then ask to see them to get inspiration to do your own.
- In some churches, workshops or sessions on gravestone rubbing are sometimes held as part of vacation or special occasion activities. Inquire within.
- If you are doing this for record-keeping reasons, it's advisable to also take photographs of the relevant gravestones.
- Be careful to not leave any blu-tack or tape remaining on the gravestone when you have finished, as this is vandalism.
Edit Things You'll Need
- Soft brush
- Masking tape or painter's tape; don't use any tape that is strongly sticky as it can harm the gravestone; poster tack is another alternative
- Large sheet of paper or rice paper
- Rubbing wax or a large, sturdy dark colored crayon; some also suggest using artist's charcoal although it can be quite messy
- Spray bottle with distilled water
- A clean rag
- Rubber band
- Poster tube
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