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Restoring tombstones preserves memories


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001

What better way to pay tribute to your ancestors than by restoring their faded tombstones? It's a complex undertaking, but, as I discovered a couple of years ago, the results are worth the effort.

My restoration project began when I noticed that the inscriptions on the tombstones of my great-grandparents and my great-great-grandfather were becoming illegible. I knew I had to take action if I didn't want them to be forgotten.

Since the graves are in Pennsylvania, my time for completing the project was limited, and so were my options. I could try to clean them, replace them with new ones or restore them.

I eliminated possibilities. The stones appeared to be too weathered for cleaning, new stones would not be historically accurate, and I felt that retaining the originals would be preferable to my an Samuel Murry's tombstone got restored first. He died in 1871 and was buried in a tiny private cemetery at the top of a mountain. Next came the joint headstone for Levi and Mary Agnes Murray, an obelisk in a nearby church cemetery. (Levi was Samuel's son. He added the "a" to Murry.)

I arranged with a local monument company to have both stones restored. The process was simple. The stones were removed and taken to the shop where the work was done. They were then reinstalled at the gravesites.

The restoration cost $445 per stone. My brother split the bill with me, and a couple of cousins made small contributions toward restoring Samuel Murry's stone.

I also paid the monument company to etch my parents' names on my sister's headstone. She is buried near Levi Murray, and my parents are buried in Florida. I did not want future generations to have to guess whose child she was.

The descendants of John Resler found another way to preserve his memory and retain the original tombstone in United Methodist Church Cemetery, Normalville, Pa. They had a brass plaque affixed to the fading stone.

Free burial markers for veterans

Restoring a tombstone is costly, but, if your ancestor was a veteran, you may be able to get a free headstone. The Veteran's Administration provides free headstones for placement on the graves of eligible veterans anywhere in the world.

You don't have to be a relative to obtain a headstone, but you must be able to provide documentation of the person's military service, and you must pay to have it installed.

For more information, call (800) 827-1000 or log on to The application form is available for downloading.

- Donna Murray Allen welcomes your questions about genealogy and will respond to those of general interest in future columns.

-- Sorry, she can't take phone calls, but you can write to her c/o Home & Garden, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail her at

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