This was something my grandmother did when I was a kid. It's been close to 30 years since I've tried it. A few years ago, I ordered a stone-rubbing kit, but didn't do anything with it except lose one of the pieces. I also ordered the video linked below. On an overcast Sunday, in late April '06, I took the "boughten" kit and the other items I'd assembled, and headed to a local cemetery.
It was a real learning experience. First off, it's quite physical work. And time-consuming, if you do it right. Two major things to take with you, in addition to the materials needed for rubbing: sunscreen and drinking water. I remembered the first, and attempted to get the second, but the store had NONE in stock. Not even in the machines outside (truly bizarre). I figured I wouldn't be that long so it wouldn't matter, but I was mistaken! Even on a cool, overcast day, I got a little dehydrated.
- Association for Gravestone Studies
- Morbid Outlook: How to do gravestone rubbings
- Cryptic Clues in the Bone Yard. I have this video in my collection, and found it to be quite interesting. It shows you how to build a complete kit without spending a ton of money. The benefit to the video over a website is that you can watch someone do a rubbing.
- Cyndi's List - a list of cemeteries & funeral homes. Intended for genealogists who want to find a particular grave; however, there may be resources that will help you find a good cemetery to visit.
- There are stone-rubbing kits available. The one I purchased had 5 sheets of special paper, 2 cakes of very hard rubbing wax, a roll of low-tack masking tape and a soft bristle brush.
First, pack your bag. A great comprehensive list is available in the resources. My first trip included the items pictured below. Make sure to wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty, and take a big bottle of water!
Originally, this cemetery was very, very Baptist. Even if the sign didn't explain it, you could tell by the fact that on the vast majority of the older stones, the women didn't have last names. They were "Jane, wife of John Smith," never "Jane Smith." That's why I picked these two to work on for my first try. It helped that Reed (Abigail's stone, shown up top) is a family name, and she died near Halloween. But essentially, I selected two stones that were in good shape that denied the women their own last names.
Keep rubbing, until the image is clear and as dark as you'd like it. Carefully remove the tape and roll up the rubbing. See resources for care & handling of the rubbing after you get it home.
These aren't perfect - not by a long shot - but I'm happy with my first attempts. Sadly, they didn't make it to the new house for some reason, so another trip is in order.