23 May 2007

Springtime for cemetery visits

No, I'm not writing about a sequel to The Producers. When the weather begins to warm up, researchers begin planning trips to cemeteries. We search out the resting places of ancestors, participate in indexing cemeteries for Web sites such as JewishGen's Jewish Online Worldwide Burial Registry, or take photographs of stones as a mitzva (good deed) for colleagues in far-off lands.

What do cemetery trekkers need to take?

Water is essential (both to drink and to clean a stone), as are a blanket, creepy critter spray and a tool for clearing away brush. Bring a brush for removing surface dirt from the stone, a stick (a popsicle stick or even chopsticks!) to remove dirt from carved letters, an old cloth towel or paper towels, and work gloves. Don't forget to bring handwipes so you can clean up before you drive home.

If you are photographing stones, take a piece of foil-covered cardboard or a car windshield protector to help angle sunlight onto the front of the stone for a better image.

The experts agree: Do not scrub or scrape the stones. Do not use shaving cream or chalk. Do not use bleach or any other chemical. If you must clean a stone, use water only. Bring it in a spray bottle so you can use it exactly where needed. And make sure to take everything home with you, rather than littering the site.

Don't forget your camera and film (if you haven't joined the digital world). If you've gone digital, remember to bring a spare memory card or two, and remember to charge the batteries (bring extras).

Hard-core cemetery seekers find a GPS device useful for recording a grave's exact location.

A hat and sunglasses are a good idea, as is a fully-charged cellphone. A New York researcher friend of mine was visiting a major Queens cemetery, got lost, and couldn't find her way out as it got late in the day. She called the administration office to find out how to get out. Another researcher had car trouble and called the office for assistance - otherwise, he might have had to spend the night!

To look over a pair of books on visiting cemeteries, visit Avotaynu, and read the tables of contents and a sample chapter for Nolan Menachemson's A Practical Guide to Jewish Cemeteries and Rabbi Joshua L. Segal's A Field Guide to Visiting a Jewish Cemetery.

If you are visiting further afield, click here for travel to Ukraine, and still more concerning visits to Eastern Europe.

And for a nifty vest to carry lots of the gadgets recommended above and many more - at a price - Dick Eastman reviewed the Scott eVest some time ago.

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