Please take the following issues into consideration before visiting the cemetery to clean and repair the tombstones of your ancestors:
The type of tools and products you will use:
-- Power tools with plastic wheels that rotate at high speeds that are pressed against the stone's surface remove its outer layer of marble. The "marble dust" residue seen lying on the ground around a gravestone was created after this type of a procedure had been done and is evidence that such aggressive measures were used. Hand tools used to remove lichens, etc., on the other hand, do not remove layers of marble or stone, therefore do not leave such residue. Thus, hand tools are less invasive and harmful to the stone's surface, and preserve its depth and thickness. "Grinding away" on a tombstone can cause long term ill effects on it -- some that we may not even realize. Once it's done, it cannot be undone.
-- The type of cleaning products you choose -- Please check MSDS - Material Safety Data Sheets - before purchasing cleaning products and applying them. Read reviews and consult with professionals if they use certain products and what is their assessment of them. Always be sure to obtain more than one opinion. Unfortunately, even 'before and after' gravestone photographs may not tell the whole story if a product applied to it has done or will do irreparable harm. There can be lingering adverse effects evident only months or years later.
This blog has several links to websites offering products. Also, listed are some gravestone conservation professionals; both Ohio based and outside of Ohio.
Please take the time you need to read and ask questions before purchasing and using products and/or hiring professionals to conduct cleaning and repairing of your ancestors' gravestones. Please remember that the long-term future of our ancestors' gravestones is at stake. The results will reflect the decisions we make and the paths we choose to take.
To help you with your decisions, please consult with well respected organizations that promote the safest known practices for gravestone conservation and preservation.
"The National Park Service National Center for PreservationTechnology and Training" --"Best Practice Recommendations for Cleaning Government Issued Headstones"
I'm confident that the time you take to review your options will lead you to make the best decisions possible for your tombstone preservation work.
I leave you with my short poem as a reminder that mistakes made while cleaning and repairing tombstones can be irreversible.
“THERE IS NO TOMBSTONE TIME MACHINE”
By Linda Jean Limes Ellis
January 23, 2014
An old tombstone cannot be made new again,
No matter how hard we try.
There is no Tombstone Time Machine to turn back the clock,
So please don’t believe the lie.
We scrape and scrub the stone’s eroded epitaph,
Then rinse it well and pat the surface dry.
We see their names, ages, birth and death dates are now more clear.
But wait, before we take our photographs, is that their voices that we hear?
A moment is spent to bid our respectful goodbye, before we turn and depart,
Knowing that wherever we are the tombstone will always hold a piece of our heart.
We will return to that lonely tombstone because we just can’t stay away,
And bring with us more tools to work again on another day.
The tombstone belongs to another time,
Though it's standing in our sight.
Please treat it as your own,Mindful to always strive to preserve it right!