Grave Markers
Community cemetery needing care
Community cemetery

As is easily discernable from the timeline and images identifying the development of burial grounds and cemeteries since the settlement of Pennsylvania's lands, grave markers are one of the most distinctive features of a burial site. They are artistic, symbolic, and commemorative memorials in different shapes, sizes, and materials, representing different beliefs on death and afterlife. Inscriptions represent languages of the many peoples who have settled in the state. Each exists in a different state of deterioration for reasons ranging from weathering in the environment to blatant vandalism. Certain cemeteries can claim markers dating from 17th to the 21st century; others date from later times and remain less inclusive. It is all these variables that make the repair and conservation of grave markers so critical to retaining the integrity and historic character of each individual cemetery. All these characteristics must be documented, assessed, and analyzed before conservation treatment begins.

Documentation is an essential process in conservation of historic grave markers and monuments. A preliminary conditions survey of each marker is recommended and should be conducted prior to treatment. Photographs, sketches, and written notes can provide an invaluable resource towards implementing the appropriate treatment. For an example general survey form, click here (PDF).

All available information should be complied and reviewed prior to development of a treatment plan. In some cases, a more comprehensive conditions survey or historic structures report may exist for the entire cemetery. This information may shed light on construction materials/techniques as well as previous treatments or repairs. If a cemetery has ever employed, or plans to employ, the services of conservation professionals, the cemetery should expect to receive a final report at the completion of the project, including the aforementioned information. Such a document typically contains general maintenance recommendations and should be consulted as a resource for maintenance of the grave markers.

Headstone in need of repair
Headstone in need of repair

Prioritization of Gravestone Repairs

The most important issue regarding the repair of gravestones is the urgency of repair. Stones with the most severe types of damage should be repaired first. Priority stones should include stones that are at risk of losing important inscriptions or carvings, broken stones that are at risk of being taken from the site, and stones or monuments that cause a threat to public safety.