During a recent trip to my small hometown, I took my kids to visit some of our family’s grave sites at the local cemetery. It may seem an odd destination for an outing, but I have always been intrigued by cemeteries. Rows of headstones hold vast stories and history. To my surprise, my kids were equally interested.
My hometown cemetery goes back many generations. As we walked the rows, we read the various messages on the stones with both sadness and fascination. With each stone marking a fallen soldier, the boys considered their timeline studies to identify what war they had been in. Stones shared by couples often reflected the date of marriage. One declared, “We had fun!”
After locating some of our own family, I introduced the kids to stone rubbing. It is the process of creating an image of the surface features of stone. We took a few different materials to learn how to get the clearest rubbings. We tried using chalk, crayon, and charcoal on construction paper, tracing paper, lightweight butcher paper, and medium weight non-fusible interfacing. All of our surface materials were successful, but for rubbing materials we preferred only the crayon and charcoal.
Here are a few suggested steps to plan and perform a stone rubbing field trip:
- Check with the cemetery to verify stone rubbing is allowed, and if you need permission to be there. This may not be necessary in smaller communities.
- Materials needed are: paper surface materials such as construction paper, butcher paper, tracing paper or, light to medium weight non-fusible interfacing. Rubbing materials such as crayon or charcoal. Scissors and masking tape.
- Carefully clean the gravestone. Once you have chosen a gravestone for rubbing, gently brush away any dust and debris. Avoid older stones that show decay.
- Prepare for the rubbing. Cut your surface material slightly larger than the rubbing area, and carefully tape it to the stone with masking tape. You want the surface material to lay firmly, so smooth out any loose areas as you tape.
- Perform the rubbing. Using a crayon or charcoal, select an area and begin rubbing. If the stone has a border, it can be helpful to use it as a guide to make sure you capture all of the text and patterns.
- Finishing. When your rubbing is complete, carefully remove all materials from the stone.
- Clean up. Be respectful and remove all tape and other materials. Take home everything you came with.
A local cemetery may seem an odd place to visit, but it is a unique way to explore history. Taking time to make rubbings from family gravestones can generate interesting conversations with kids.