Contributed by Alice French, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Menokin Foundation.
What better place to hang out in October than in a cemetery. The Menokin Foundation recently hosted a two day Cemetery Conservation workshop at Menokin Baptist Church in Warsaw, VA. Experts in the field of conservation from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources came out and shared their knowledge of best practices for maintaining, cleaning and documenting stones. It was quite an elucidating experience.
We spent most of our first day in the “classroom” learning about cemetery research and recordation, state laws, archaeology and iconography.
Day two was was our “field day” in the cemetery adjacent to Menokin Baptist Church. In addition to studying the iconography on the stones there and learning how to best document and
preserve what remains, there was also clearly noted instruction on the many things NOT to do to a tombstone. Surprise. Most of us were offenders in one way or another.
The main thing I learned is that there is generally very little you can do to forever protect all of the stones in a cemetery. But it is best to try to keep them clear of roots and tree limbs and free of other natural debris. And the ONLY thing you should attempt to clean your stone with is a little bit of ionized water, which luckily for us rural dwellers, is readily available in your local farm supply store. Putting shaving cream and other chemicals may temporarily clean up your stone, but in the long run will hasten its deterioration.
The real key to preserving your site is documentation. Take good photos of what is there. Try to photograph stones to be able to read the text. Then record the information in as many places as you can. DHR has a standard form you can use to gather the most significant information. Also, share your information with other genealogy sites and the church (if your cemetery is associated with one).
This tombstone marks the grave of Richard Harwood and his wife Mary, who died 3 days after him. Inscribed on the stone is this epitaph “They were lovely in their lives and in death were not divided”. The Harwoods owned Menokin during the mid-19th century. Mr. Harwood became a Baptist and deeded land to the Menokin Baptist Church in 1837 for the construction of the church.
The obelisk form is known as a monument. The stone displays many forms of iconography and a lot of the delicate carvings are wearing away, including some morning glories which represent the Resurrection. The urn at the top symbolizes the soul.
For more information about resources about cemetery conservation, please contact the Menokin Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be happy to guide you in the right direction.