The Hobby of Graving
Graving? What is That?
"Graving" is the term given to "gravers", or those who take the time to photograph and/or record cemeteries online for posterity.
Far from a "creepy" or "eccentric" hobby, the art of graving is a peaceful and generous undertaking that helps others as well as providing reflective, quiet time for yourself.
The term "graving" came from forums of the website Find A Grave, which was founded in 1995 by Jim Tipton. As of this writing - February 2008 - there are over 21 million graves recorded in the searchable Find A Grave database. To join and contribute is free.
One of the most rewarding aspects of graving is fulfilling Photo Requests. A person who, for whatever reason, is unable to find or visit a grave of a loved one can request that a photograph be taken in the cemetery where the deceased resides. Local members, or other members that happen to be in the area, can fulfill this request - helping someone who might otherwise never have had the chance to see the final resting place of a lost loved one.
Aren't Cemeteries Creepy, Though?
To the contrary, my time in cemeteries is quiet, peaceful, and reminds me to take nothing for granted. I always leave a graveyard feeling uplifted and thankful, and very calm and relaxed - rather than afraid or depressed as some might imagine.
Other gravers agree; one of the most serene places you can visit is a beautiful, tree-dotted cemetery. Some of the older ones are mysterious and intriguing - who doesn't want to uncover a mystery? Many times my travels through graveyards have piqued my interest and spurred me into some research about the names and dates I found; always a unique and interesting story or history was dug up.
How Do I Get Started?
So you think you would enjoy taking up the hobby of graving and are wondering what you need to begin? Nothing more than a notepad & pen, a working camera, and some free time!
I recommend signing up for a free membership with Find A Grave to record your findings there. Naturally, this isn't necessary. You can record cemeteries for your own, personal records or your preferred genealogical society. Or, if you just prefer to enjoy your time visiting a cemetery, you needn't record anything at all!
However, if you decide to record your findings - and become a "graver" - Find A Grave is a wonderful, free place to share your records worldwide. Having always been a lover - and frequent visitor of - cemeteries, Find A Grave gave me something useful and productive to do with this passion; I now have a hobby to go along with something I love to do and would be doing anyway.
Things to Know
If you decide to take the plunge, all you really need is camera (I recommend a digital one) and pen & paper to jot down notes on stones that might be too difficult to read via a photograph.
These are the tools of the trade, yet there are also some pointers and general rules that should always be followed when graving.
Often, headstones will be difficult to see clearly - being covered by leaves, mud, lichen, dirt, cut grass, or some other debris. Never ever attempt to clean the headstone with anything but water, soap, and a soft rag. Cleaning chemicals can eat away at the stone, regardless of its make, and anything other than a soft rag (a small broom, a small brush, or even a nearby stick) can scratch and damage a stone. Grave markers must stand the test of time and, regardless that may be made of grante, marble, or concrete, can easily be marred.
Take Clear Photographs
You certainly don't have to be any type of professional photographer (goodness knows I'm not!), but always try to make sure your grave shots come out clear and (at least somewhat) centered.
If possible, also take a shot of the cemetery gates or welcome sign to add to Find A Grave if not already there.
If you see a funeral being conducted, or someone nearby where you wish to snap who is obviously mourning or visiting, hold back. Never interrupt mourners or funeral-goers.
Leave It As You Found It
It should go without saying that anything you bring with you, other than flowers for the dead, should leave with you as well. Do not litter the cemeteries or leave behind any type of garbage or debris.