Baltimore region needs transit not transit phobia

Southbound train at Lutherville station, August 2014, courtesy of Wikimedia

Note: Below is a recent letter I wrote, which was published in the Baltimore Sun, online and in print. The bolded phrase, which is bracketed in the text below, is one I should have added before sending in the piece, but did not realize the error until after the letter was published. Oops. Some phrasing and such was changed when it was finally published, as I originally called Sandra German, Mrs. German due to her marriage noted in the letter, but the Sun changed this to Ms. Since this was published it has been shared on Facebook and by those in the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, some of whom I have been communicating with. In sum, Baltimore is my city, so I can’t just stay silent and I refuse to stay silent.

Recently, Greater Fern-Glen Community Association President Sandra German wrote a screed against the light rail (“Why Glen Burnie is opposed to light rail,” Aug. 2). As a user of the light rail and buses in the Baltimore area, Ms. German’s commentary deeply concerns me. The public transit system in the Baltimore area shouldn’t be cut back further, but rather should be expanded.

In 1965, as a recent article by D.W. Rowlands on the web site Greater Greater Washington noted (“Baltimore once had an elevated streetcar along Guilford Avenue,” July 31), Baltimore received money from the federal government to study a regional rapid transit system. Three years later, the city released a report proposing a “71-mile system with six branches radiating from downtown.” If the system had been built, Baltimore’s subway system would be comparable to the Washington, D.C. Metro. In 1971, rather than approving a complete transit system, a 28-mile initial plan was proposed, consisting of two lines which would later become the Baltimore Metro subway route (opened in 1983) and light rail line (opened in 1992). Sadly, the southern branch of the subway was cut due to opposition from Anne Arundel County residents. In this sense, the commentary by Ms. German is in keeping with historical mores!

As for what Ms. German had to say, it is not fair to paint the light rail’s users as a bunch of criminals. The majority of those who use the service are well-natured individuals going to and from their jobs, those going to sports games, tourists, or those going to the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, to name a few reasons. The point of a mass transit system is that everyone can use it, including some who are seen, rightly or wrongly, as unsavory types. [1]

The same applies to the bus system. Recently, Baltimore County Council members David Marks and Cathy Bevins have said that the bus service stop at The Avenue in White Marsh should be closed at 11 p.m. because of “large crowds of youth in the evening on the weekends,” claiming the youth are disruptive, uncontrollable and harming their own safety, after a recent fight at the White Marsh Mall (“Baltimore County council members urge MTA to reduce bus service to White Marsh Mall area after fight,” Aug. 8). For those who use such mass transit, especially those who are transit-dependent, it is not right to stigmatize them because doing so makes it clear there is a “race issue” at play rather than a concern about public safety, despite what Ms. Bevins told The Sun.

Eliminating the Glen Burnie stop of the light rail [2] would be another blow at the inadequate public transit system of Baltimore. Apart from having a better-run light rail or a Red Line in Baltimore, which is advocated by many, including the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, there needs to be a full-throated mass transit system for Baltimore. Already, the SmarTrip Card is part of the WMATA system, so why not have a physical connection [other than the MARC train*] between Baltimore and D.C. by rail? Additionally, Annapolis should be connected to Baltimore, possibly by extending the light rail beyond Glen Burnie, in order to further tie the state together. Having a complete and working mass transit system for the Baltimore area, rather than one outranked by those of Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, D.C., Chicago, Boston, and New York, is vital.

It is time that Baltimore live up to its motto still inscribed on many city benches (“The Greatest City in America”) by creating a world-class transit system, building upon the existing and inadequate transit system to make something that will benefit the people of the Baltimore area.

Burkely Hermann, Towson


Notes

[1] On ipetition is a petition (strongly pushed) to close the Cromwell and Ferndale Light Rail Stations started by none other than Ms. German. Currently 395 people have signed it. Some even say the Linthicum station should be closed too! Hilarously are the comments on the community association’s Facebook page that it is “horribly unprofessional and clearly not in support of any type of “community”…this person clearly has no idea what they’re talking about. Whoever is representing this association is the kind of person who ruins communities, not builds them up for the good of the people living there” and another saying “Horrible site run by a nasty racist woman. Not accurate about the area at all.” There are some positive comments of course, but many negative ones. The organization, with the page run by Ms. German herself as it seems from some of the comments, takes a clear anti-immigrant stand, saying that “I think it’s time to secure the boarders, build the wall, and make sure these kids are given back to their parents” and talking about the “illegals” (undocumented immigrants). They also oppose affordable housing, watches for what they see as crime (like this post), and praised those in the Sun who did not call her racist, reprinting her screed, which was also published in the Gazette in a shorter version. She is clearly preparing for some sort of fight, possibly even in court, apparently, angry at efforts to keep the light rail open, even threatening the Baltimore Sun with newspaper cancellations if her letter was published. She thanked the Maryland Gazette for covering a protest of the association opposing the light rail, which she claims is “unaccountable.” I have a strong sense she supports the current U.S. president.

[2] Its officially called the “Glen Burnie (Cromwell)” stop of the Light Rail, or Cromwell Station. It is in Glen Burnie, despite one of the comments which said it isn’t…

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Lisa Oakley and the saga of John Plant

On June 26, I received a voicemail message from Lisa Oakley, a family eldercare coach in California, about her Maryland ancestor, John Plant, a member of the Maryland 400. [1] This blog aims to address her email, adding new information to John Plant’s story. I begin by using content from existing blogposts: “The post-war lives of Maryland’s revolutionary soldiers“; ““Ready to march Southward”: The story of the Maryland Extra Regiment”; “The story of the Extra Regiment’s ordinary soldiers: From McCay to Patton“;  and ““…the new Regiment now raising”: Continuing the story of the Extra Regiment.” All copyrighted material used falls under the fair use exception to U.S. copyright law as it is used for educational purposes here.

John Plant was a Charles County man who had fought in the Maryland Line, specifically part of Captain John Hoskins Stone’s First Company of the First Maryland Regiment, enlisting in Port Tobacco, Maryland. In 1781, as an experienced soldier, he served as an ensign, then lieutenant in the new Maryland Extra Regiment. He likely resigned in January 1782 as he could not retain this rank in the new unit. Still he returned as a “supernumerary” to Annapolis, beginning to receive payments after his military service eventually resulting in a pension years later.

After the war, he lived in Charles County, becoming a “well-off small farmer and slaveowner who owned two horses, one cattle, and one enslaved black child.” On June 15, 1788 he married an eighteen-year-old woman named Mary Ann Davis, with some recalling his military service in later years.Later on, Plant and Mary lived in Washington, D.C., which was then a “largely rural and sparsely populated area which had thriving ports at Georgetown and Alexanders, in addition to the federal town of Washington City, which had about 8,200 inhabitants,” with slavemasters and over 7,900 enslaved blacks being an important part of society. Plant died in DC on November 14, 1808. Many years after his death, his widow, Mary, tried to get John’s pension payments but had trouble doing so, leading her to almost be “deprived of a pension.”

What new information does Ms. Oakley add to this story? Well, John Plant’s bio managed by the Maryland State Archives, which I originally wrote back in 2016, reflects some changes, but not all. She says that he went to Prince William County, Virginia after the war as a “tenant farmer,” with a witness to his will being a “tavern owner just to the south side of the Occoquan River.” The will she attached is transcribed below, which was  tough due to the quality of the image she sent of the will (likely because it was taken on a cell phone). However, by  happenstance, someone else had transcribed this already (which I stumbled upon), so I’ll reprint their transcription, with bolding being my  emphasis:

JOHN PLANT Will

Prince William County Will Book I, pg. 3414 [sic, 414?]

10 Nov 1808; proved 5 Dec 1808

In the name of God Amen I JOHN PLANT of County of Prince William and State of Virginia being sick and weak in body but of perfect mind and memory knowing it is appointed for all men once to die do make and ordain this my last will and testament that is to say principally and first of all I give and recommend my soul into the hand of Almighty God that gave it and my body I recommend to the Earth to buried in decent Christian bureal at the discretion of my Executrix nothing doubting but at the general resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty power of God and as touching such worldly estate wharewith it has pleased God to bless me in this life.  I devise and dispose of the same in the following manner and form.  First I give and bequeath to MARY PLANT my loving wife al my estate real and personal for and during her life and at her death to be equally divided between my two daughters GRAYSON and SARAH to them and their heirs forever.  I constitute my loving wife MARY PLANT my sole Exetrix of this my last will and testament.  In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this tenth day of November in the year 1808.

JOHN PLANT {seal}

Witness

ZACH WARD

DAVID JOHNSTON

At a Court held for Prince William County Decemr. 5th 1808

This last will and testament of JOHN PLANT decd was presented to the Court by MARY PLANT the Executrix therein named who made oath to the same according to law and being proved by the oaths of ZACHARIAH WARD and DAVID JOHNSTON is ordered to be recorded and the said Executrix having performed what is usual in such cases certificate is granted her for obtaining a probate thereof in due form.

Teste

J.WILLIAMS  Ct. Cur.

I tried to look for another version of this on Family Search and Ancestry, but was sadly unsuccessful.We do know from this that he died between November 10 and December 5th. According to his pension, we know he died on November 14. Finding his cemetery may be extremely hard, as there are no results for the name Plant in Prince William County, Virginia and Find A Grave lists 279 cemeteries in that county! We know that Prince William County sits right on the Potomac and is 36 miles away from the heart of D.C. Still, possible candidates  for where he could be buried includes Woodbridge, Sudley Springs, or elsewhere. Yet, the family narrative, noted at the end of this post claims he is buried in Charles County, Maryland. But no results come up for Plant in that county either. Some sources seemed to say he had land in the county.I looked at MDLandRec to see if I could find anything. I found a listing for Horatio Plant in 1814, interestingly enough:

He is listed on Liber 213, no. 10, p. 519

I looked further, finding a James Plant in 1755 (Liber A, no. 1 1/2, p. 345) and 1757 (Liber G, no. 3, pp 129, 157). On the next page there were no listings for any individuals with the Plant surname at all! Looking at it in another indice gave me the same exact result:

Should be IB, not JB

I tried to look for Liber A, no. 1 1/2, p. 345 but no results came up. The link to it in the Guide to Government Records did not work when I tried it. I looked at pages 129 and 157 of Liber G, no.  3. It shows James Plant owning a piece of land called St. Michaels, which was 100 acres in 1757. Other records that year show Plant buying even more land, related to the Saint Michaels tract, from Richard Coffer. The next set of records are in 1814. Its between George Bradley Stewart of D.C., Horatio Plant and his wife Mary Cassandra Plant of Montgomery County, MD, Mary Eleanor Stewart of Montgomery County, MD, and William Dement of Charles County, MD. George, Horatio, Mary, and Mary paid William Dement $500 for a tract of land called South Hampton which is between tracts owned by John Thurman Stoddert (later a congressmember who would introduce Mary Ann’s pension claim), and Mary  Truman Fendall. And that’s it!

I checked on Plats to see if there was anything on Saint Michaels. It turns out there was an entry, but it was back in 1664. But, it doesn’t seem to be on Plats. I did find South Hampton however. It was unpatented in 1799. There is a long history, with the specifics of the land. The land itself is basically a set of rectangles and squares, nothing to write home about:

Courtesy of plats.net

The family trees on Ancestry aren’t very reliable on this subject, claiming that John was born in England in 1755,  with debate on whether he died in  Charles, Maryland or Prince William County, Virginia, USA. I seem to think that he died in the latter place. [2] The one Ancestry user, Adam Perry, writes that “John lived for a time in Northern Virginia in Prince William County based upon his will and my ability to locate one of the witnesses to the will.” Both of these trees cite the U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970 database, which is notoriously unreliable, having no source for their information put reprints, some pages from his  pension:

Through Ancestry’s Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files database, I  was able to find the whole pension, which I have uploaded as a PDF onto this website (I eliminated the pages with little or no content, as they are irrelevant).

But, saying he lived in Washington, D.C., as my old bio said, was not totally wrong, as it says now: “By 1808, the family had settled in Prince William County, Virginia, not far from Washington, DC.” [3] This connects to the fact that 6 months before he died (in November 1808), ” he apprenticed his sons Nathaniel and John to business people in DC.” The records are shown below:

In her third point, she writes that “John Plant had a sister Sarah Ann Plant Stewart Jones” with her obituary she was “able to determine that she attended St. Ignatius Parish prior to moving to DC in 1795. It states that she was born in Charles County.” That record, from page 3 of the National Journal on September 26, 1829, is shown below:

On her fourth point, she says that “Mary Ann Davis, [as] 2nd wife to John Plant,” living out “the rest of her life in DC with her youngest daughter Sarah Ann Plant Hay and son in law.” She adds that Mary Ann died in 1841 with a “burial location is the now- abandoned St. Patricks Church cemetery in DC” (as also evidenced by the Find A Grave she put up) with “notes written up by Agnes Plant who was the great-granddaughter of John Plant of Revolutionary War.” Mary’s obit is shown below, and after it is from the notes written by Agnes Plant.

Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Interestingly, we find (abstracted from John’s pension) that “William Stewart, age about 62, deposes that when he was about 12 years old, he recollects hearing of the marriage of the said Mary Ann and John Plant in Charles County, Maryland that the said John Plant was his mother’s brother and this deponent lived near them.” This being the case, it means that William is a grandson of John, with William’s mother being a sibling of John. William’s mother is Sarah, who was talked about earlier in this post.


Notes

[1] In 2017, she had emailed me in saying that she believed that “Horatio Plant d. 1840 (son of Ann Shepard) was also the son of John Plant. I believe that Ann was his first wife and may have died in childbirth,” going onto say that “Ann is the sister of the famous Francis Shepard, their family has been written about at Port Tobacco and the property there that was handed down from their father John Shepard”  and that she has “a copy of John Plant’s Will, however, he only names his two daughters Grace and Sarah.” She was, at the time, looking for anything that named “Horatio Plant, or have some advice to give on finding it.” Later that year, she appreciated my transfer of John Plant’s virtual grave to her, and said that connecting to Owen Lourie helped, adding that “both Horatio, and John Plants other known son Nathaniel were in the same regiment for the war of 1812. Nathaniel is the one who took/picked up the pension paperwork for May Ann Davis.”

[3] The last paragraphs of the bio now read: “Plant settled in Charles County after his military service, at least for a few years. He was a modest farmer, who probably did not own any land, although he did have one slave. On June 5, 1788, he married Mary Ann Davis (b. ca. 1770) in Charles County. They had four children together: Grace (sometimes called Grayson), Sarah, John, and Nathaniel. [5] By 1808, the family had settled in Prince William County, Virginia, not far from Washington, DC. Plant apprenticed his sons to masters in the city that spring. John was indentured to William Worthington, a cabinetmaker, and Nathaniel to a cordwainer, or shoemaker, in Georgetown. Only six months later, in November or December, John Plant died. In 1835, Mary Ann applied for a Federal veteran’s pension as the widow of a Revolutionary War soldier, and she eventually was awarded $95 per year. She died in 1841. [6]” I posted  the older version on academia.edu.

New “1771 Massachusetts tax inventory” tells about my ancestors

Recently, Dick Eastman, wrote about a new online database titled “1771 Massachusetts Tax Inventory” which also includes Maine since it was, then, “the Province of Massachusetts Bay.” This database, as he describes it, has the names of nearly “38,000 individuals who resided in 152 Massachusetts towns in 1771” and data such as the “type and value of real estate and buildings, as well as tabulation of livestock and farm commodities produced” and it further has features allowing you to “browse the data by selecting items to view and “drilling down” through totals for counties and towns to the holdings of individual taxpayers.” Furthermore, there is an “interactive map [that] helps you locate towns and counties in the state” which is based “upon a map of Massachusetts drawn in 1792 and scanned from the Harvard University map collection.” Using this, I went to the database itself and searched for two families of my ancestors: the Hirsts and the Packards (the focus of my sister blog, Packed with Packards).

While no result for “Hirst” appeared, there were over 40 Packards listed, many of whom were living in Bridgewater.

Of these, I focused on two in particular: Barnabas and Zechariah, both subjects of my family history, as noted on Packed with Packards! Barnabas was described as a resident of Bridgewater who owned a dwelling house, half a gristmill, 8 acres of pasture for  4 cows, 3 acres which were tilled, 4 acres of upland mowing land, 3 acres of fresh meadow while producing 26 bushels of grain a year, 2 barrels of cider a year, 2.5 tons of hay from the upland area a year, and 2 tons of hay from the fresh meadow area a year. It also said that Barnabas had 1 horse, 6 goats and sheep, 1 swine, did not own a servant, had 26 pounds lent at interest, and had a property worth only 13 pounds! This meant that in total Barnabas owned 18 acres and was doing moderately well, but was not in the gentry of the Massachusetts colony, as one would expect for the Packards:

Then there’s Zechariah Packard, who was a slaveowner. He had a different situation. He was also living in Bridgewater. While he had one dwelling house, he had 5 acres of pasture for 6 cows, 6 tilled acres, 4 acres of upland mowed land, 3.8. acres of fresh meadow, while producing 71 bushels of grain, 2 tons of hay from his upland mowed land, and 8 tons of hay from his fresh meadow land. Additionally, he had 1 horse, 4 oxen, 6 goats & sheep, and 3 swine, along with one servant “for life” (a slave), with his real estate worth 14 pounds. He was definitely doing better than Barnabas, owning 18.8. acres compared to Barnabas’s 18, but was still not the most prosperous in the colony of Massachusetts.

Then there’s the interactive map (from 1792 but still can be used to find towns noted in the 1771 database itself) Using the available features, one is able to focus on Plymouth county:

From there, you can focus on Bridgewater, in the northwest corner of the county.

This is a good resource, on the whole of learning more about Massachusetts and one’s ancestors, without question.

Michael Marshall’s correction and the story of Moses Orme

Page 1 of deed between William Murdoch and Moses Orme in July 1778, via MDLANDREC

Recently, a man named Michael “Mike” Marshall, who is a transcriber/abstracter, and evidently the owner) for a website called Early Colonial Settlers of Southern Maryland and Virginia’s Northern Neck Counties commented on my blog, saying

RE: [4] Deed between William Murdoch and Moses Ouno, Montgomery County Court, Land Records,July 13, 1778, Liber A, p. 195, 196 [MSA CE 148-1]. Courtesy of mdlandrec.net. Not sure how pages of Liber D, 166 and 167 [MSA CE 148-4] relate to this topic as one source suggests.

=== Moses Ouno is Moses Orme
Montgomery County Land Records, 1777-1781; Liber A1, Page 195. Jul 30, 1778 from William Murdoch of Prince George’s County, merchant, to Moses Orme of M, planter, for 492 £ 12 shillings and 6 pence, a tract of land called Shawfield, being part of a tract of land called Discovery, bounded by John Coffee’s land, Samuel Blackmore’s land, containing and now laid out for about 281-1/2 acres. Signed – Will:m Murdoch. Wit – Chrisr Lowndes, Rd Henderson. This deed was ack. by William Murdoch in Prince George’s County. John Read Magruder, Clk, Prince George’s County, certified that sd Christopher Lowndes and Richard Henderson, Gentlemen, were JPs for sd County. Recorded Nov 10, 1778.

I responded by saying that I may have read the name wrong, then looked back at the deed itself, showing, yes, the name is Moses Orme, not Moses Ouno as I had written in a previous post. In that previous post, focusing on the life of Benjamin Murdoch, a captain within the Extra Regiment of Maryland, I was referring to that fact that in Benjamin “later settled some of his deeds in Montgomery County in the Orphans Court with his relatives there reportedly,” hinting that the William Murdoch who “bought a part of a tract named Discovery from Moses Ouno” was related to Benjamin because he would buy this land “in later years.”

Page 2 of Deed between William Murdoch and Moses Orme, via MDLANDREC

The question that comes out of this is obvious: who is Moses Orme? Marshall’s website lists three men named Moses Orme. The first was born on Oct 31, 1755 in Prince George’s County, MD, and dying in November 1827 in Lewis County, Kentucky, and is likely related to another (his father?)who was born in 1693 in Prince George’s County, and had his probate on December 17, 1772 in the same country. While the first one could be him, he had no abstracted wills in Montgomery County. The last Moses Orme does: he was born about 1730 in St. John’s Parish, Prince George’s County and had his probate in Rockville, Montgomery County Feb 12, 1782.

Abstracts on Orme’s page, show that he had three sons (James, Moses, and Samuel Taylor), a wife named Priscilla (Verlinda seems to be his first spouse), eight daughters (Mary, Ursula, Verlinder, Rebecca, Harriet, Eleanor, Priscilla, and Charlotte). It also notes that when he wrote his will in 1772, he owned 100 acres, stock, and had at least eight enslaved Blacks, if not more (possibly four more), along with varying farm animals.He began such a lifestyle by buying, for “30 pounds sterling” a “portion of the two said tracts containing by approximation 50-1/2 acres” in 1761. By 1774, he gained more land through marriage. After his death, his son Moses, “sold by these presents part of a tract called “Taylorton” alias “Taylor’s Rest” and containing 51 ¾ acres” which had been bought by his father in 1761. This Moses may the same one living in Annapolis by the 1830s.

Nothing else is currently known about this man except what is written by Florence Bayly DeWitt Howard for the Montgomery County Historical Society  in 1994 (uploaded here), also noting the history of  the Orme  family in the area:

William Murdock Junior in 1778 conveyed Shawfield, “281.5 acres,” to Moses Orme for 492 pounds 12 shillings 6 pence and in his will of 1782, Moses Orme gave “Shawfields known by the name Discovery” to his wife, Priscilla (Taylor) Orme during her widowhood, and after her death to his son James Orme. Priscilla Orme was left with three sons, one married daughter and seven younger daughters, a large family. It is not known exactly when the Ormes moved onto the tract Shawfield but Moses Orme is listed in the 1777 Montgomery County tax list in Rock Creek Hundred with four taxables. The early owners of Discovery were residents of present-day Prince George’s County and had patented and purchased it as an investment, expecting that the land would increase in value as settlers moved into the area, which it did…In 1787 William Murdock Junior, who by this time was a merchant in London, executed a deed to Priscilla Orme and her son James, which stated that Moses Orme in his lifetime contracted to purchase 281.5 acres, part of the tracts “divided between brothers William and Benjamin Murdock by virtue of a judgment in partition…all that part of said land so willed to him by his father William Murdock which was assigned to him upon the execution of the partition aforesaid.” Priscilla and James Orme had paid 500 pounds for the land and it was conveyed to them…Shawfield, the western half of the northern section of Beall and Edmonstons Discovery, was still the home of the Ormes at the time of the 1793 county tax assessment. Priscilla Orme was listed with 285 acres of Shawfield and eight slaves. By 1810, the land was assessed to her son, James Orme. James made his will in 1829, several years before his death in 1832, leaving Shawfield to his wife Rebecca during her lifetime and after her death to their three sons, Jeremiah, William and Patrick Addison Orme. He instructed his children to free his slaves when the female slaves reached the age of 30 and the male slaves at age 35. Rebecca Orme must have died by June 11, 1841, when William Orme and his wife Anna Maria Orme of Washington, D.C., Jeremiah Orme of George Town, D.C., and Patrick A. Orme and his wife Anna R. Orme of Baltimore sold the land. They conveyed, for $2800,their 281.5 acres of Shawfield to Edward Stubbs…Although the conveyance from the sons of James Orme to Stubbs did not mention it, in 1827 James had sold one acre of Discovery, just inside its north line, to William Beckett for $30, the deed stating that the land was commonly called “The Old Cabbin” and was “in the tenure of said William Beckett.”…Many families have lived on this land that was once Beall and Edmonstons Discovery: three generations of Ormes, four generations of Stubbs, and so many other families. Today the land belongs to the residents of Montgomery County and is visited by people from far and near. It has become our treasure and part of our heritage, to be cared for and enjoyed and passed on to future generations

We know from other sources that the Orme family lived in Montgomery country. We also know that Moses Orme, on the pauper list in 1783, came a “well-known, financially stable” family, and was living “in the Lower Newfoundland district.”

That is all that is known, but it adds a little more to Maryland history.

A defense of grave rubbing: fun but controversial

“Getting a rubbing of a favorite headstone for personal records” as noted in a caption on a post on the Billion Graves blog, with a man named “Chuck Badger” commenting below the post that “I would suggest, though, not to post people making rubbings on headstones. This could be damaging to stones,” one indication of the controversy of grave rubbing.

Grave rubbing is an inherent part of genealogy. Thoughts about it among genealogists and other researchers are divided, without a surprise, with strong anger emanating from the preservation community on this issue. Case in point is the response of Jere Gibber, Executive Director of the National Preservation Institute, to my inqiry, noting the number of available online, and saying that “here are just a few of the articles I found on the subject. In general, I would say that the advice offered leans toward not doing gravestone rubbings for many good reasons” and sending forward links to Historic Cemetery Preservation in Maryland, a site titled “Vast Public Indifference” standing against grave rubbings, a “Cemetery Preservation Guide” by a Louisiana individual saying that grave rubbings are extremely harmful, and a link to a South Carolinan website. He ended by saying “best of luck with your own research.” It must be a small organization for the executive director to email me!

Introduction: the debate begins

Some sites like Wikihow and ThoughtCo have pages on “how” a grave rubbing (also called a stone rubbing or tombstone rubbing) should be done. Wikihow says that you need to check if its okay to take gravestone and tombstone rubbings, with some “headstones may be considered too fragile to take rubbings but on the whole, most people won’t mind you taking a rubbing,” says that you shouldn’t trespass, you should assemble the needed items, clean the gravestone with a soft brush (as one site states, “before cleaning any stone, carefully check its condition”), and how to make the rubbing itself. ThoughtCo says something similar: that you should have permission, only do a grave rubbing on a stable stone, making sure you don’t damage the stone, and how to make the rubbing once all the appropriate steps have been taken. However these, including the Wikipedia page on “stone rubbing,” and some other sites I found on the subject do not talk about the ethics of gravestone rubbing. [1]

There are hints to the debated nature of grave rubbing. A page on Save A Grave, notes that “gravestone rubbing can be controversial. Many rubbers are not careful, for this reason, some cemetery associations do not allow stone rubbing,” while giving the same general tips as WikiHow and ThoughtCo. Another site, savinggraves.net, adds, before outlining tips about how to do grave rubbing appropriately, that “this practice has been regulated or banned in some states and in many cemeteries (particularly in colonial graveyards) due to the damage it can cause to the stone” such as in New Hampshire, with many “cemeteries now ask for permits before you are allowed to do rubbings” and adding that “common courtesy tells us that we should first ask for permission from the cemetery or graveyard superintendent or sexton prior to doing rubbings or taking photographs.” Add to this the words of the Massachusetts Studies Project, which says that while grave rubbings is an “easy project to do with students,” it is controversial because “repeated rubbings degrade the stones and can cause damage if done improperly.”

Courtesy of ICH Blog. “One group started cleaning up the cemetery and the other group went with Terra who led a workshop about grave rubbing…[ultimately] everyone came away with a working knowledge of the process and an solid understanding of the value of grave rubbing.”- The ICH Blog
Even so, some, at least in the comments of this post, seem to enjoy grave rubbing. Some said that if grave rubbings are nicely framed “they make a bold statement,” or that it is “quite a pleasing technique,” and, with one adding that it’s a “very English thing, and usually free too.” Others called the grave rubbings “cool,” and one said they loved rubbing graves. In an online forum post, one person said that “a group of American tourists ambled along the path, taking pictures and ‘rubbings’ of headstones,” and in response some said that it is was good they “had an interest,” that rubbings of “some of the more famous graves/monuments” could be acceptable,” and that grave rubbing is a “popular pass time.” Even a group called the “Gravestone Girls,” which states that “everyone sometime in their life has probably done a gravestone rubbing,” once offered a 2 & 1/2 hour class to “teach proper techniques [of grave rubbing] and educate about these interesting and historical spaces.”

This post looks at the differing laws on grave rubbing within the United States and articulates a defense of grave rubbing as opposed to those who are angry at the practice. Note that any of the following text quoted from varying websites is done in accordance with the fair use exception under existing U.S. copyright law as this article constitutes “reproduction…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching…scholarship, or research,” meaning that it is not an “infringement of copyright.”

Argument #1 against grave rubbings:

Photographs are so great now, they negate the need for grave rubbings, which harm the stone!

“Tombstone rubbings have been popular for centuries, and are often still touted as a fun and interesting way to keep a visual record of a tombstone. But the truth is, it is harmful to tombstones and is currently being banned and outlawed in many different areas. Rubbing is, in itself, very abrasive to stones. It will eventually wear away the carving on stones and loosen bits of the stone causing flaking and breaking. Remember, even gentle rubbings cause decay. With photography what it is today, there is no reason to do a rubbing for recording or memorialising a tombstone. Photographs can provide a much greater and more artistic visual remembrance of any stone.”- New Hanover County North Carolina GenWeb

“…gravestone rubbing…can cause serious harm to a gravestone. The practice of gravestone rubbing was to place a piece of paper against the front of the gravestone and then use a crayon or pencil to rub against the paper. This was a method of recording the look and words of the gravestone. Unfortunately, with many gravestones being centuries old, this practice would often cause the stone in the gravestone to chip and flake…Your best bet is to take along a good digital camera, on a bright, sunny day where you get the best contrast, and to take the pictures. Even subtle shadows can be emphasized in most digital software packages, and you’ll be able to see exactly what those letters were saying to you.”- Lisa Shea 

“Gravestone rubbing is the process of reproducing a gravestone’s inscription on paper by rubbing chalk, crayon, or charcoal over it. Rubbing can quickly reproduce a life-size reproduction of the stone. It is a popular graveyard activity that has sparked many people’s initial interest in cemetery preservation. While rubbing may seem harmless, it can damage the tombstone. The friction and pressure hastens the natural erosion of the inscription that occurs with exposure to weather. Fragile tombstones are especially susceptible to this deterioration. Rubbings also leave remnants of wax or charcoal on the tombstone. Encouraging rubbing perpetuates the false notion that tombstones are impervious to damage. Therefore, gravestone rubbings are not recommended. Similarly, the use of shaving cream to highlight inscriptions is not recommended because it causes chemical damage. High-resolution digital photography is a safe alternative to rubbing that still allows a surveyor or visitor to record the inscription”- Prince George’s County, Maryland Cemetery Preservation Manual 

“What about tombstone rubbings? These are controversial for the risk they may place on the stones, and have been banned in some places. There are safer ways to capture what’s engraved on the grave marker…Take a picture; it will last longer. Here are some steps you can take when shooting the picture to make the inscription more readable”- Family History Daily.

My Response:

There is no doubt that having a good camera can replace grave rubbing. However, if such rubbing is done properly, then it can be as good, if not better than photography. Cameras which have a good lens and work well are not always accessible to everyone. Not everyone, from what you might think, has an iPhone. If you don’t know how to take a good picture (not everyone is skilled at photography as others are), then saying “you should take a photo, not do a grave-rubbing” is silly!

As one blog, focusing on gravestone rubbings at Fort Snelling National Park in Minnesota puts it, the rubbings themselves are hard work! Not only that, but it is fun! As the blogger notes, as you can experiment a bit, with the “look of layered colors” including wax crayons, applied with varying pressure. Even one critic of gravestone rubbing admitted that “a good gravestone rubbing is a thing of tremendous beauty.” I can’t agree more. Just take this grave rubbing of Jane Austen’s grave on the website of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

A favorable sentiment of grave rubbing is echoed by the Bullitt County History Museum. The latter which reprints the leaflet from the Association of Gravestone Studies titled “Gravestone Rubbing for Beginners,” who describes why grave rubbing is so important (after giving do’s and don’t as any good person does about grave rubbing):

Gravestone rubbing is fun. It is possible to collect some beautiful artwork that can be framed and displayed. A carver’s skill can be preserved, or an ancestor’s stone recorded and appreciated through this craft. However, gravestone rubbing is also controversial. Especially in cemeteries where a restoration project is in progress, rubbing is often banned. This is to enable the restorers to have an opportunity to preserve all the stones possible before more damage occurs. Even if a restoration project is not in progress, if those who care for the cemetery have determined there are very fragile stones there which may be damaged if pressure is applied to the surface as happens in rubbing, there may be prohibitions in place. So be sure to check.

There is something about grave rubbing that photography doesn’t have. In a spiritual way, grave rubbing allows you to be close to the stone, even touch it, even though through paper. You gain a direct connection to the stone that you don’t gain from a photograph, which you are doing removed from the stone itself. Its almost like the energy of gravestone (and/or the grave site) comes out to touch you and effect you in a positive way, which is powerful especially if some of your family are buried there in that very grave site!

Grave rubbing at Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest, courtesy of a blog titled “Field Notes from Fatherhood

Apart from a spiritual feeling you could feel, grave rubbing is, I’d argue more creative than photography. I’m a young person, or as society wants to label me, a “millennial” (whatever that means), but I detest people being on their phones all the time taking photographs. I guess I’m “old fashioned” in that way, but I don’t mind that much at all. Most people don’t carry around cameras anymore, but have it on their small smartphones in their pockets. Engaging in grave rubbing, it can be a family activity, of someone bringing scissors to cut the drafting, transparent paper, another doing the taping, and one doing the coloring with crayons of some kind.

Just taking a photograph is boring and loses the creative, and I would argue, interactive element of grave rubbing. I understand the arguments against grave rubbing, but using a camera or a phone with a camera is losing that human feeling, that human touch with something that is part of our past. Instead of just touching a button on your phone, you feel that you are part of history, that you are recording something for future generations. Additionally, just taking a photograph assumes that technology will work and not fail. That is, I can say from my own experience, not a safe assumption to make. Technology fails all the time. Hard drives and disk drives, memory sticks and power cords, work one day but don’t work the next. As one article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it,

Gravestone rubbings may not be everyone’s idea of weekend fun, but folks who dig history and art say it’s the best of both worlds…Several students chose the graves of children, some dating back more than a hundred years. Under Foster’s direction, they used tracing paper, which is exceptionally fine, and charcoal to capture epitaphs and designs…Kelly says he does a lot of rubbings himself, not as an artistic pursuit but for clients who want to have headstones made to match those in nearby plots. He also processes requests from folks who want to rub gravestones for fun or to create artwork to frame.

Julie Kohl of Only in Arkansas adds to the above that “grave rubbings can be beautiful pieces of art themselves but should be made with extreme care and caution.” She further writes that “never force any debris off of the stone and never select a stone that is damaged or fragile in any way” and adds that “when you have completed all of your rubbings and it is time to leave, clean up after yourself. Make sure you gently remove all of your tape and collect any trash” along with many other helpful suggestions. Recently, as the National Blues Museum noted, John Wegrzyn traveled the country “visiting grave sites of famous blues musicians for the past 20 years,” creating “gravestone rubbings on album record sleeves from these sites” with the process transforming “the images of the gravestone onto paper making a unique artful homage to each musician.” You can’t do that with photography! As one blogger comments, there is “no better way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon than in your local graveyard” engaging in grave rubbings, with the right supplies, saying that a “simple crayon works better than pastels or charcoal for gravestone rubbings.”

Courtesy of Oklahoma City Mom’s Blog, in an article by Kristi, which celebrates the joy of grave rubbing and going around cemeteries.

To the final part of the argument, those who argue against grave rubbing harp on the “harm to the stone.” I get that some people are clumsy and can damage stones too easily (only do the grave rubbing on stones which are stable). But some of these grave sites are not tended well and clearly have few visitors (like one I visited in Bridgewater, MA near a church). As such, few visit these places. Saying all of that, I do think that people should follow all the right tips for grave rubbing, as noted in the first part of this article, and generally use “common sense,” as my mom always says, when it comes to this creative endeavor. As noted by the Florida Division of Historical Resources, “do not make a rubbing of a gravestone if it is in poor condition and may fracture from the pressure applied to its face” and while making a rubbing, “be sure that the marker is completely covered with paper and the rubbing medium will not leave any residue.”

There is a point that those who sneer at grave rubbing seem to forget however: a grave rubbing can include details that a photograph cannot. Sometimes gravestones are hard to photograph, or even if they can be photographed in a good way, you miss something. If you do it diligently, and with discipline, a grave rubbing can show all the nooks and crannies of a stone. This is especially important as stones tend to sink into the ground, meaning that they are submerged partially below the ground. However, if a grave rubbing was done before that, then a photograph taken of the partially submerged stone will tell you less than the grave rubbing. There should be no question about that.

The Holmes County Cemeteries WordPress, which says that “extreme caution” should be done while doing a grave rubbing and getting permission (as some cemeteries do not allow it), describes the practice of grave rubbing as a

technique that can be used to preserve the unique artwork found on many tombstones. If done properly, it can be a way to help decipher the tombstone’s inscription which may be worn with age.

Can you preserve the “unique artwork” with a camera and decipher an inscription worn with age? This is unlikely to be the case especially of a photograph of the stone doesn’t turn out well.

Sure, grave rubbing can “potentially damage” a stone if done incorrectly. However, just taking a photograph is like restraining yourself from touching something in a museum. Why not interact with history, instead of physically removing yourself by taking a picture? I understand what too much rubbing of a stone can degrade it over time. If one stone or a cemetery is a popular one for grave rubbing, that the cemetery should do their own (professionally done) grave rubbing(s) and have them available to those visiting the cemetery. I wouldn’t be opposed to that at all. This is something those who sneer at grave rubbing don’t seem to think about or propose as a possible compromise.

Courtesy of a blogger named Gwendolyn with a blog titled “60 Days of Halloween” with this one titled “Day 56: Gravestone Rubbings”

If you want to take a photograph, go ahead, but you will be engaging in an activity which does not have as much of a connection to the past, is something that is easy, simple, and thoughtless. Grave rubbing is something that requires thought but is creative and interactive. Saying all of this, I still enjoy Find A Grave and BillionGraves, with photographs of tombstones within their profiles even if I personally prefer grave rubbing better.

Argument #2 against grave rubbings:

Its against the law, just take a photograph!

“I did not take this rubbing, in fact because I live in Massachusetts, I have never done a gravestone rubbing. It is considered gravestone desecration and it against the law here. I don’t know if it is against the law in other states. This rubbing was done in Connecticut and probably many years ago. It is a reminder to all how well preserved this gravestone is to be able to do that…I raised my hand and politely informed him that this was an illegal practice in Massachusetts and that he should be teaching gravestone photography instead. He replied that it wasn’t the SAME and that he would continue to teach them to rub gravestones…It occurs to me now that gravestone photography would be quicker and easier for his students to accomplish (and more educationally appropriate for 21st century learning and sharing online) and perhaps the time it took to make the gravestone rubbing and then to hang them somewhere in the college’s halls (adding to his fame and reputation) was the point to the assignment in his mind.”- a blog titled Granite in my Blood 

“…gravestone rubbings…are harmful to the gravestone…I consider them temporary and my digital photo of the rubbed stone to be my permanent record.”-  Janine Adams of Organize Your Family History

“NHOGA does not recommend rubbings as a means of documenting the stones. Old gravestones are surprisingly fragile and any pressure on the stone can easily cause it to snap in half. Because of this, gravestone rubbing is often prohibited by law. Photography is a much safer option.”- New Hampshire Old Graveyard Association

The part about taking a photograph is addressed in response to the previous argument, as noted above.

In Massachusetts (MA), as noted by the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation, general governmental guidelines say that cemeteries should “prohibit stone rubbing, which can leave trace oils and wax on historic stone,” recommending the directing of a “raking light across the stone’s surface to illuminate inscriptions,” saying to use “a strong flashlight or a large mirror,” then taking a photograph. This prohibition would see seems to have harsh penalties in existing law (also see here) although grave rubbing doesn’t seem to mentioned specifically, but alluded to and considered to be part of the law, by places such as Family Tree Magazine. There is even a sign at King’s Chapel Cemetery in Boston discouraging grave rubbing, as one blogger noted in 2011:

There is a similar sign in Sudbury, MA, as noted by a blogger also in 2011, saying “the revolutionary cemetery is under the jurisdiction of the Sudbury Historical Commission. There is to be no gravestone rubbing or metal detection allowed.”

 

With the image and other assertions, it was unclear to me whether grave rubbing was illegal in Massachusetts or not so I asked. Here is my email exchange with Ed Bell of Massachusetts Historical Commission, part of the Massachusetts State Archives, starting with my email on December 26th:

Good evening.

I’m getting ready to write a blogpost about grave rubbing (nationwide) and would like to know about its legal status in your state. I’ve read your states Department of Conservation and Recreation, general governmental guidelines say that cemeteries should “prohibit stone rubbing, which can leave trace oils and wax on historic stone,” recommending an alternative. I’ve also read specific parts of Massachusetts law here and here, and although some places, like Family Tree Magazine, seem to say it is illegal in Massachusetts, I still haven’t found anything definitive within Massachusetts law as of yet.

I guess I’m asking: is grave rubbing (also called stone rubbing, gravestone rubbing, monument rubbing or tombstone rubbing) illegal in Massachusetts? If not, is it only discouraged, but still legal?

If you can’t answer my question, I ask that you direct me toward someone who can answer my questions.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing from you in the coming week.

Best Regards

[my name and contact info]

Apparently Mr. Bell thought I was female (maybe because they get a lot of emails from concerned ladies?), writing back the following day:

Dear Madam,

For Mass. state laws about cemeteries and gravestones, see Mass Gen Law c. 114 and Mass Gen Laws c. 272, ss. 71-73. Municipalities in Mass. and private cemetery corporations may have their own ordinances and rules. We are otherwise unable to offer legal advice.

Ed Bell MHC

I responded the next day writing

Mr. Bell,
Thanks for your email. I was not thinking you would provide legal advice but was hoping for further resources on laws on grave rubbings. I will take a look at Mass Gen Laws c. 114 (https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXVI/Chapter114) and c. 272, ss. 71-73
(https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartIV/TitleI/Chapter272/Section73). I recognize that “municipalities in Mass. and private cemetery corporations may have their own ordinances and rules” as you note.

Thanks again for responding in a timely fashion.

Best regards,

[my name]

The first law is chapter 114 titled “cemeteries and burials.” After going past varying provisions on cemetery corporations within this chapter of MA general laws, there are provisions about maintaining cemeteries, prohibiting individuals from using cemeteries as a cut through, not actually looking at the stones, saying that cemeteries cannot be used for commercial purposes without permission, and prohibiting towns from removing any “fence, tomb, monument or other structure” in a cemetery, but allowing them to repair and restore.

Then there is section 73, within chapter 272 of MA general laws, titled “tombs, graves, memorials, trees, plants; injuring, removing.” It says and I quote:

Whoever wilfully destroys, mutilates, defaces, injures or removes a tomb, monument, gravestone, American flag, veteran’s grave marker, metal plaque, veteran’s commemorative flag holder, commemorative flag holder representing service in a police or fire department, veteran’s flag holder that commemorates a particular war, conflict or period of service or flag, or other structure or thing which is placed or designed for a memorial of the dead, or a fence railing, curb or other thing which is intended for the protection or ornament of a structure or thing before mentioned or of an enclosure for the burial of the dead, or wilfully removes, destroys, mutilates, cuts, breaks or injures a tree, shrub or plant placed or being within such enclosure, or wantonly or maliciously disturbs the contents of a tomb or a grave, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or by imprisonment in the jail or house of correction for not more than two and one-half years and by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars. In addition, the court shall order any person convicted of an offense pursuant to this section to pay restitution to the owner of the property that was damaged, destroyed, mutilated, defaced, injured or removed.

This would obviously prohibit scratches of a stone or damaging a tombstone in any other way. Even with this, however, I can’t tell if this would prohibit grave rubbing or not.Some people on reddit said that “if I recall correctly… gravestone rubbing is illegal in MA” but couldn’t find any source other than blogs, another said it is illegal to “deface” or “tamper with” gravestones in Massachusetts,” and someone else commented that: “I don’t know of any cemeteries that allow stone-rubbings.” I know that Reading, MA says that “unauthorized gravestone rubbing is not allowed” and Burying Point cemetery in Salem (as does the whole jurisdiction) bans the practice, as does Dennis, MA, but does this apply to all of MA? The same could be said for Princeton, MA which says that “only gravestone rubbings authorized by the PCC are permitted” with the same being the case for Amesbury, MA, and Provincetown arguing that “gravestone rubbing…is not allowed except by express written permission of the Cemetery Commission or their designee upon submission of written proposal.” There are similar regulations in Harvard, Andover, Ware, Harwich, Lakeville, Topsfield, and Ipswich. Perhaps people could do it more freely in the past as a photo on this website could indicate.

With this, I would say it is safer to take photographs in Massachusetts as, at least from my research, the law is unclear on the subject despite some declaring it is prohibited. Perhaps it a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis, I’m not sure but it seems it is not illegal, but don’t quote me on that. As such, make sure to recognize the rules or regulations regarding photography in cemeteries.

“Volunteers helped with light ground cleaning and site care…Afterwards they had the opportunity to enjoy tours of the cemetery grounds, try a hand at grave rubbing, and participate in an archaeological scavenger hunt” with the text and above photo from archaelogical.org.

Then we get to Rhode Island. It seems to have strict laws relating the moving of anything from a grave site. However, grave rubbing does not seem to be mentioned, even if you said it was implied in bills (unsure if they passed) like this one (also see here). [2] Like with Massachusetts, I emailed the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, writing that

Good evening.

Your state seems to have strict laws relating the moving of anything from a grave site. However, grave rubbing does not seem to be mentioned, even if it seems implied in varying laws.

I had one simple question: what is the legal status of grave rubbing (also called tombstone rubbing, monument rubbing, and gravestone rubbing) in the state of Rhode Island? Is it illegal as in Massachusetts (as some assert), is it legal but needing a permit, or something completely different.

I hope you are having a good holiday and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,

[name and contact info]

As of January 22, the date of the writing of this article, I have received no reply to this inquiry. I hope to get something considering that the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission (RIHPHC) suggests that grave rubbing be limited. On February 6th, Charlotte Taylor, an archaeologist with the RIHPHC, told me, in an email, “sorry for being so long in answering your question; it took a while to get to my mailbox. There is no law forbidding gravestone rubbings in RI, but the RI State Cemetery Commission strongly discourages it, because it might cause damage to the stone. Let me know directly if you have any further questions.” Why they would strongly discourage it is understandable, as I note in this article, although I still support the practice as this article notes.

 

Image via Ancestry Printing, a company which is so specialized, it only deals with printing genealogy charts! The person in the image seems to be Cheryl Spiegel of Ancestry Printing, a co-founder of the business.

In New Hampshire (NH) municipal cemeteries and burial grounds, one needs to obtain the “written permission of the town selectmen or the mayor of a city or designee” to do a grave rubbing, as stated in a law passed in 1994 in Section 289:22 of NH  Law. Specific rules and procedures are laid out in the easy-to-read and interpret form issued by the town of Fitzwilliam. The town of Northfield, NH prohibits grave rubbing as does Amherst (also see here), Tuftonboro, Stoddard, and Oakland Cemetery, while Rumney, NH says you need written permission before doing a grave rubbing. The same is the case in Hancock, NH, which says that “headstone rubbing is permitted only by the Sexton. Persons wishing to perform rubbing must register with the Town Clerk and the Town Hall. Instructions for headstone rubbing will be issued at time of registration,” the same being the case for Walpole, NH, Brentwood, NH, Stratham, NH, Marlow, NH, Epping, NH, Gilmanton, NH, Windham, NH, Newton, NH,

Savannah, Georgia has a whole set of regulations relating to monument and headstone rubbing. Their regulations state that:

  1.  You need a “permit from the Department of Cemeteries” to do a grave rubbing that specifies “all lot numbers from which a rubbing is desired,” with a permit applied for every time the monuments are rubbed.
  2. A permit to rub a monument needs the written approval of the owner of the lot which contains “the monuments to be rubbed,” except if the owner is deceased with no heirs, and no burials “on that lot for at least seventy (70) years.”
  3. The person making the request for the permit is “responsible for any damage to monuments or the grounds incurred by the rubbing activities” and cannot rub monuments that are “cracked, split, spalling, flaking, or have seams,” but only those that are “sound stones”
  4. All rubbings of monuments has to be done under the “direct supervision of a responsible adult over eighteen (18) years of age”
  5. Stones may be cleaned but only with a soft brush and not with a wire brush, with the non-removal of “lichens or moss growing on the stones”
  6.  The entire area to be rubbed must be covered with paper held in place by making tape, with any pens not allowed for monument rubbing, but “chalk, charcoal, crayons, or graphite” being acceptable, with any tape, paper, and trash from the process either removed from the lot or put in trash cans

Another city in Georgia, Atlanta, has its own regulations. They only have one sentence, unlike Savannah, saying that “no person shall conduct any stone rubbings within the cemetery, unless approved by the commissioner or director, bureau of parks.” Madison, also in Georgia, has similar rules, saying that only permitted grave rubbing is allowed following proof of “family authorization” with guidelines for supervision, certain standards, cautions, approved rubbing methods, and approved rubbing materials.

This is very different from Nashville, Tennessee which prohibits grave rubbings because “the markers are very fragile [and] the pressure applied to the marker to make the rubbings can cause continued flaking,” adding that even “with the harder stone markers, crayons and pencil marks left on the stones are damaging.”

Wasco County Chief Deputy Lane Magill: “It was a cold day, about 20 degrees and brutal, and the wax didn’t want to work when I was trying to do the gravestone rubbings at Arlington. I ended up having to redo some of them but somewhere along the way these men became the faces of war for me; I never met them but they died for me.”- The Dalles Chronicle of The Dalles, Oregon.

Connecticut is unique. Since many of the gravestones in the state are sandstone and will “erode internally leaving the surface…seemingly very stable for rubbing when in fact the stone is hollow beneath.” Other laws on grave rubbing in Connecticut are not currently known except it is clearly prohibited in Somers, CT. With this, and the condition of the stones, I don’t think rubbing stones in Connecticut is a good idea! As the Fairfax County Cemetery Preservation Association writes, “rubbings themselves are generally discouraged unless authorized by the gravestone owner…Do not touch any gravestone that looks delicate, unstable, or disaggregated.”

The same type of laws in place in Connecticut are also there for Pennsylvania. The latter undoubtedly has laws concerning cemeteries (as noted here, here, and here) but none seem to relate to grave rubbing. Already it is clear that someone was able to do a grave rubbing of Andy Warhol’s gravestone in PA, so perhaps it isn’t illegal? You could also say this is the case for New York which has a listing of laws applicable to cemeteries, and even has a Division of Cemeteries. Lafayette, Colorado is the most direct of all, saying point-bank on their website that “gravestone rubbings are not permitted.”

Beyond this, there are laws on gravesites (some specifically related to grave rubbing) for varying other states:

  • Indiana (the laws of the whole state are not currently known, but it is clear that you can do grave rubbings in Indianapolis)
  • Texas (also see here)
  • Virginia, which has laws about defacing, mutilating, and damaging stones, but nothing about grave rubbing per say (see here, here, and here)
  • Washington State
  • Ohio  (while it seemed that the state seems to prohibit rubbing of stones which would cover grave rubbing, with this specifically the case in Granville Township, other places allow it but only with permission, and it has been done in Antioch, Ohio, putting into question if it is prohibited at all)
  • North Carolina’s specific laws on cemeteries do not mention grave rubbing
  • Missouri has laws about damaging stones (as noted here and here) but nothing about grave rubbing to be exact
  • Kentucky has similar laws to Missouri, but nothing relating to grave rubbing
  • Tennessee has similar laws to Missouri and Kentucky.
  • Maryland seems to need some sort of approval for grave rubbing (“No ground disturbing activities may be conducted on state-owned or state-controlled property without obtaining a permit from MHT”), but I would have to look into that more as the guidelines don’t say.
  • Maine’s laws on cemeteries don’t even mention the word “rub.”  It seems that Maine allows grave rubbings, but more investigation would be needed as one needs permission for such rubbings in certain cemeteries in the state
  • llinois, the laws of which don’t include the word “rub” (even so, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Illinois Historic Preservation Agency “strongly discourage” rubbings, further writing in a preservation handbook that “Making a rubbing of a marker does pose an unwarranted risk to the stone..although some preservation resources support making rubbings, we believe that the risks outweigh the end results. Digital photography provides an excellent opportunity to capture the motifs and inscriptions found on marble markers.”)
  • Utah, the laws of which seem unclear on grave rubbing.
  • Oregon doesn’t mention grave rubbing either!
  • Nebraska, which doesn’t mention it
  • Louisiana, with a website with dead links
  • South Carolina (The South Carolina Dept of Archives & History writes that “unfortunately, it can damage historic gravestones. Some cemeteries now even forbid the practice…If you decide to make gravestone rubbings, avoid as much damage as possible” but no comment on its legal status is made, although this website seems to suggest that prohibiting grave rubbing was floated)
  • West Virginia
  • Florida has resources about grave rubbings but nothing specifically on its legal status
  • Michigan, with the Michigan Historic Cemetery Preservation Manual writing that “gravestone rubbings are not recommended and are no longer considered an acceptable practice because of the harm and damage that can occur…With the currently available photographic capabilities, rubbings are an unnecessary risk for fragile historic headstones. High-resolution photography of stones is a safe and effective alternative to rubbing. Photography can document and reproduce the same information. A digital camera can achieve remarkable results without chemicals or stress to the stones.” The exact laws in Michigan are not known, although there are documented grave rubbings in the state.

There are federal laws, but these don’t relate to grave rubbing and neither does the cemetery brief by the National Park Service.

Courtesy of Episcopal Christchurch of Shrewsbury in Shrewsbury, NJ. Images taken in 2014.

As for Maryland, I asked about grave rubbing, writing an email on January 22nd:

Good morning Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight,

As a Marylander, I’d like to know about the legal status of grave rubbing (also called tombstone rubbing, monument rubbing, stone rubbing, and gravestone rubbing) as the burial law document compiled by the Maryland Historical Trust doesn’t seem to mention it. I’m not asking for legal advice or anything of the sort as I know you wouldn’t be able to provide that. But I see that “Maryland law provides protection against disturbance of burial sites and human remains” and that “No ground disturbing activities may be conducted on state-owned or state-controlled property without obtaining a permit from MHT” on the Historic Cemetery Preservation webpage. I was originally going to email the Maryland Historical Trust, but I thought I’d start with you first.

I look forward to hearing from you in the coming week.

Best regards,

[then listing my contact info and name]

I hope to hear from them soon. I will update this blog with their response. I know that the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites writes in their guide to stewardship of burial sites that

Do rubbings of stones only after permission has been granted by the cemetery office or owner. Your interest in burial grounds may be in creating a rubbing of the carvings and inscriptions found on the gravestones…on a very basic level, to lift an image from a gravestone you need…Permission to do a rubbing from the cemetery management…Note that it is important to not mark or mar the stone you are rubbing in any way. Placing the paper all the way over the edges and around the stone helps to ensure you do not get any wax on the stone…It’s better to learn the good rubbing techniques and try out your tools before you enter a burial ground. It is therefore recommended that you practice at home before you attempt to lift an image on site…If you want to create a rubbing of a stone and the cemetery refuses permission, state or local law forbids the practice, or a stone cannot be rubbed due to its deteriorated condition a photograph is a good alternative.

But, that is general and doesn’t talk specifically about Maryland.

After saying all of this, it is clear that you should make sure you follow the relevant guidelines in your state regarding grave rubbing (not burial laws). You don’t want to be running away from the police with your grave rubbing in hand, pay a nasty fine, or spend time in the slammer! Allison Dolan of Family Tree Magazine wrote that:

A state, county, municipality or a cemetery itself can set rules regarding tombstone rubbings. Historic cemeteries and those popular with tourists…often prohibit tombstone rubbings because of the potential damage. Repeated rubbings of a stone, even when done properly, cause deterioration over time. Similarly, Department of Veterans Affairs national cemeteries also do not authorize gravestone rubbings..You also may find rubbings aren’t prohibited, but regulated…Before you visit a cemetery to do a rubbing, call ahead to see if it’s permitted. Most cemetery Web sites I checked didn’t address the issue; I’d try to talk to a person just to be safe. For some cemeteries, it’s not clear whom to call…A local genealogical or historical society might be able to give helpful information, too. Before visiting a cemetery located on private property…check cemetery access laws to ensure you’re not trespassing…Even when tombstone rubbings are allowed, use common sense: If a stone is unsteady, crumbling or fragile, don’t take a rubbing—take a picture and make a transcription instead.

From here, Genealogy Today puts it best, when it comes to the merits of grave rubbings, writing that “tombstone rubbings can be a great way to collect genealogical information. And the process can be fun for the entire family,” helping to preserve old tombstones which “crack and break apart or erode over time.” Additionally they can create “interest and conversation with family members who aren’t normally interested in family history.” I doubt that a photograph of a tombstone can have the same effect as that. As Kristi of the Oklahoma blog, “Cemetery Fun!” writes,

the first time I ever did a grave rubbing was in a beautiful, old cemetery in Stratford-upon-Avon.  It was so fun.  This is a great way to not only teach about the symbols but it’s a great art project as well.  All you need is some paper and a crayon and possibly some tape to hold the paper on, if you are wanting to copy a large area….make sure the cemetery allows rubbings &…only do them on sturdy headstones.

Even saying this, looking at the laws above, some states, like Connecticut, undoubtedly require a method other than grave rubbing if the stones are that fragile, looking “stable” when they are actually hollow. As a post on Ancestry put it, “before you do any kind of gravestone rubbing, first check with the group that is in charge of the cemetery or find another method that is safer for the stone to get the information you need.” This applies whether you are doing grave rubbing in Ireland, North Carolina, Falls City, Nebraska, Kentucky, or in New Suffolk, NY. So do grave rubbing and have fun, but be responsible while doing it!

Atop an article in the West Milford Messenger titled “Experiencing local history.” They caption this photo saying “West Milford student, Ryan, participates in a grave rubbing activity.”

Notes

[1] For instance see “How to Make a Grave Rubbing” on HowCast, and a story titled “Grave Rubbings,” in HandEye magazine about a woman named Susan Lenz who “draws upon the granite and marble studded cemetery landscape for her Grave Rubbings art quilts,” seeking out “gravestones and the words and symbols carved into them for future generations.” A pretty neat idea if you ask me. Also see “How to do Rubbings on Headstones,” and “How to Do Tombstone Rubbings.”

[2] Also see here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Update:

Ms. Andrea Carlin of the Greenfield, MA-based Association for Gravestone Studies wrote to me on January 27, saying that I should “contact Gravestone Artwear, they sell rubbing supplies and I’m sure would have some advice” and attached a “guide that has some general info” for other helpful tips. That 8-page-guide is attached here. The website she sent for Gravestone Artwear says the following:

…Our brand NEW Old Stone Rubbing Kit’s contents are all manufactured here in the USA…In response to our customers requests for wider rubbing paper, we’ve added three inches to the width of our internationally known “Aqaba” brand rubbing paper. It now measures 27 inches by 36 inches to give you more rubbing surface. We have made the tube wider for easier access to its contents.
The half inch wider width also gives you more space for storing your rubbings…The NEWLY updated Old Stone Rubbing kit retails for $29.95, plus shipping. Additional copies of the Gravestone Rubbing Guide can be purchased at $5.00 each.

As always, I welcome all of your comments on the subject.

 

Writing for the Maryland State Archives

From May to November 2016, I worked at the Maryland State Archives as a researcher on the Finding the Maryland 400 Project. While there I wrote a number of blogposts, which are as follows:

    1. Col. Gaither: Seven years on Georgia’s frontier (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu). I expanded upon that blogpost in my post on this blog titled “From the Revolutionary War to the 1790s: the Creek Nation in the Southern Gulf Region
    2. Col. Barton Lucas: more than a military man (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    3. Sickened Marylanders and the Philadelphia Bettering House (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    4. Persecuted in Revolutionary Baltimore: The Sufferings of Quakers (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    5. A “little groggy”: the deputy sheriff of Baltimore and his “bowl of toddy” (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    6. The political climate of Baltimore in 1776 (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    7. A “dull place” on the Patapsco: Baltimore and the Marr Brothers (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    8. “Flecking the hedges with red”: Palmer’s Ballad on the Maryland 400 (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    9. “The misfortune which ensued”: The defeat at Germantown (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    10. A Short Fight on Hobkirk’s Hill: Surprise, Blame, and Defeat (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)
    11. British “masters of the field” : The disaster at Brandywine (re-posted on this blog and on academia.edu)

Many of these posts were noted in a SAR report

I also wrote 91 biographies of Revolutionary Marylanders. They were on the following individuals:

  1. Hezekiah Foard (bio re-posted on this blog and academia.edu)
  2. Barton Lucas (bio re-posted on this blog and academia.edu)
  3. John Mitchell (bio re-posted on this blog and academia.edu)
  4. John Sears (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  5. Henry Mitchel (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  6. William Dawson (bio re-posted on academia.edu and Find A Grave)
  7. John Lowry (full text of bio re-posted on academia.edu since previous bio was not archived) [since been been changed by current researcher Natalie Miller, current changed version here]
  8. John Neal (bio re-posted on academia.edu and Find A Grave), and his wife Margaret, adapted from that.
  9. John Hardman (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  10. John Plant (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  11. George Lashley (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  12. Andrew Meloan (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  13. Robert Ratliff (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  14. William Marr (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  15. Solomon Slocum (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  16. Henry Chew Gaither (bio re-posted on academia.edu)
  17. Samuel Goslin (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  18. Josias Miller (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  19. Matthew Murry (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  20. Michael Nowland (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  21. Ezekiel Pearce (bio re-posted on Find A Grave)
  22. Benjamin Ford
  23. Charles Smith
  24. John McGlaughlin
  25. Neal Dearmond
  26. Thomas Donolan
  27. Richard Doyle
  28. John Gorden
  29. William Grimes
  30. Thomas Hamilton
  31. John Haney
  32. Thomas Holland
  33. William Martin
  34. James Matthews
  35. William McGlaughlin
  36. Thomas McGuire
  37. Edward McKinzie
  38. Joseph Mongomery
  39. Charles Pritchard
  40. James Reed
  41. Patrick Reed
  42. Samuel Thomas
  43. Joseph Dixon
  44. Edward Ford
  45. Alexander McConaughey
  46. James Murphey
  47. John Harris
  48. Isaac Buttrim
  49. John Callenan
  50. Christian Castler
  51. Richard Cheaney
  52. Samuel Elliott
  53. James Garner
  54. Godfrey Gash
  55. William Hammond
  56. Philip Harley
  57. James Hogg
  58. George Horner
  59. Thomas Hunter
  60. Nicholas Marr
  61. James Marr
  62. John McCoy
  63. Alexander McMunn
  64. James Mutton
  65. Mathew Neeley
  66. William Nevitt
  67. John Reed
  68. Thomas Reed
  69. William Rogers
  70. Charles Turner
  71. Thomas McLanhlan
  72. Thomas Stern
  73. John Read
  74. John Redman
  75. Richard Goldin
  76. Edward Marr
  77. Thomas Certain
  78. Patrick McCann
  79. James McHendricks
  80. John Marr
  81. John Porter
  82. Richard Pursel
  83. Benjamin Quimby
  84. William Stibbings
  85. William Thompson
  86. Barnet Turner
  87. Stephen Videto
  88. William Wright
  89. William Holmes (since been revised/fixed up by current researcher Natalie Miller)
  90. Samuel Jones
  91. Robert Harvey

The Society of John Gaither Descendants praised my work on the Henry Chew Gaither biography, writing

“It is timely during our celebration of our nation’s independence, that SJGD member Sue Gaither Vanzant alerted us to an updated and expanded biography of Revolutionary War Captain, Colonel Henry Chew Gaither. The biography and an excellent account of Colonel Gaither’s life written by Burkely Herman[n] is located on the Maryland State Archives site dedicated to the Maryland 400. Mr. Herman[n] is a 2016 Maryland Society of the Sons of American Revolution Research Fellow. The blog and biography provide valuable insight into the times in which Colonel Gaither lived and his service to our country…Society member, Sue Vanzant, through her own research, played an important role in expanding the biography of Colonel Gaither [which I wrote].

I used the information of varied Marylanders to write two following blogposts:

My series on the Extra Regiment, which are listed below, also sprung from my work at the Maryland State Archives:

I also wrote “From Alexander McMunn to Hezekiah Foard: Maryland soldiers in Cecil County after the revolutionary war” which I put up on academia.edu, which was based on the bios of Alexander McMunn and Hezekiah Foard.

My other posts on this blog were somewhat inspired by the work I did at the Maryland State Archives but not directly connected to the work I did there:

Then the most recent two posts are basically about genealogy, inspired by what I wrote on Packed With Packards:

That’s all of what I have wrote and put together.


I also re-posted bios of the Archives’ project on Find A Grave, which I didn’t write, but posted in hopes of ancestors finding them:

  1. Peter Brown
  2. Edward Blacklock
  3. William Chaplin
  4. Thomas Connor
  5. Elisha Everit
  6. Jacob Holland
  7. Philip Jenkins
  8. Henry Leek
  9. Elizabeth Cox
  10. Margaret McCane
  11. Monica Kennedy
  12. John McClain
  13. John McClain (other)
  14. Mark McPherson
  15. James Mitchell
  16. James Murphy
  17. David Plunket
  18. Patrick Nowland
  19. Francis Osborn
  20. Nathan Peak
  21. Daniel Rankins
  22. Basil Ridgely
  23. Robert Sapp

The “rules of genealogical research”: Responding to Tanner’s “Genealogy Star” blog

An image from a post on familytree.com titled “Long Lost Relatives from Across the Aisle

In late December James L. Tanner wrote, on his “Genealogy Star” blogspot, about genealogical research in the age of the internet. He wrote that “fundamental rules of genealogical research” necessitate that every conclusion cite a record or document.He added that “genealogy is not something you just make up in your spare time. The whole idea is that genealogy is based on history.” I write this post not to disagree with him, but to the contrary, to agree with him with a doubt.

In the rest of Tanner’s post, he notes how the “popular part of genealogy has evolved into a copycat deluge” with content of “record hints” ignored or dismissed, adding that there is “no way to purge the system of the old inaccurate information” meaning that such inaccuracies are “copied as well as the accurate information.” He gives examples of the “”Family Data Collection – Deaths” collection (which was “copied from copies”) , the “Family Data Collection – Births” collection (similar to the other family data collection), and the “U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Inde[x]s, 1936-2007” (which could be “accurate, but unless the person looking at the entry goes beyond this entry, there is no way to know if the information is useful”) on Ancestry.com. He ends his post by saying the following to the reader:

These are examples of the need to look carefully at the sources and to avoid copying copies. Without a general community-wide awareness of this need, we will keep getting copies of copies and preserving inaccurate information. Part of the blame for this situation lies with the individuals, but more lies with the large online companies who think they have “protected themselves” from criticism by explaining the traps but still promote the traps at the same time.

Before moving on, I’d like to respond to the above recommendations and comments. I agree that it is easy to preserve inaccurate information. However, I think it is horrible that companies like Ancestry and sites like Family Search promote bad records with inaccurate sources. So, you have to be careful with genealogical research without a doubt.

Now, let me add my two cents and personal experience.

When I originally started doing genealogy I was adding sources left and right, copying directly from family trees. These trees made it seem that the family on my mom’s side descended from English royalty. I used similar information to “prove” the link from my mom’s ancestors to a family of a similar name in England. However, this was all for naught: I only relied on family trees but little else. This meant I had to delete many individuals, deleting the “stinky” parts of my family tree on Ancestry.

Since then, my family tree on Ancestry has become a work in progress. I add and subtract information as needed, from time to time. I use “family trees” as a source but only when other sources are available.I recommend that one avoid other horrible sources like the “American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI)”, “Millennium File”, “U.S. and International Marriage Records, 1560-1900” and “Web: Netherlands, GenealogieOnline Trees Index, 1000-2015” if at all possible. One of the collections looks like this:

And here is an example of what the “hints” (or the green leaf on profiles) look like on Ancestry:

In this case, both of these hints are about the right person. However, I clicked “ignore” on both because the profile of his father already listed both censuses. I Just wrote “see 1850 census linked on his father’s page” (and the same for 1860), adding in the information from his father’s page. I did this because I don’t currently have an Ancestry.com subscription, but I have information attached to pages from the time I did have a subscription.

Anyway, more to the point of Tanner’s post is a biography on Cyrus Winfield Packard. I originally was going to do the entry on Samuel Packard, which is one of the earliest entries on my family tree but I mostly cite my Packed With Packards! blog (which cites original sources), so it probably isn’t a good example of good sourcing. So, I present the following biography (with certain identifying of the family tree information blacked out) as an example of something for other researchers to emulate.

Here is the top half of the page:

Census records and marriage records are the mainstay of this biography, whether federal or state censuses (only some states like Massachusetts have them). There is also a peppering of vital records of Massachusetts, Find A Grave, and posts from my Packed with Packards! blog about Cyrus. Now, census records and vital records can be found on ancestry, but if you don’t feel like paying for a subscription like yours truly then you can look up the same records on familysearch.org. You need to create an account now, but it is still relatively easy and a free-to-use service. This is an advantage of Family Search over Ancestry without a doubt.

Then there is the second half of the biography:

It continues in the same vein as the top half. I tried my best to source every bit of information I found. You may notice that I used photographs as a source. These come from a collection of Massachusetts Land Records at http://www.masslandrecords.com which you can search free and online. I was able to find a good many land records that way, which was very helpful to telling the story of Cyrus Winfield Packard. This blog is one, maybe of the first posts connecting my Packed With Packards! blog with this one.

I look forward to hearing your comments.