Grave Hunting Primer

This article will pretty much cover the basics on going grave hunting or starting in the hobby. Things discussed in this article are helpful tips, things needed (grave hunting tools), among other things.

First and foremost let me explain what grave hunting is? Grave Hunting is the hobby where a person, or a group of people venture to a local cemetery, and photograph the gravesites of notable people, and in many cases famous people (celebrities). The hobby of Grave Hunting is closely associated or affiliated with the singular word taphophile which according to Wikipedia is someone who has a passion for and enjoyment of cemeteries. Taphophilia involves the studying of epitaphs, doing gravestone rubbing, photography, art, and history of (famous or notable) deaths. People who grave hunt also have a passion for various forms of history, and doing background research in the people whose gravesites we come across.

Your tool bag will consist of the following items along with optional items you can use for grave hunting.

1. First and foremost your going to need a decent dependable camera. I now use a Canon Powershot SX130 which was given to me as a Christmas present in 2010.  The thing I’d like to say about cameras is that you should find one that above all fits your budget and needs.

2. I highly recommend using a high-capacity memory card for your digital camera. That way if you want to photograph a large capacity of photos, and want the best picture quality. It’s recommended that you use a high-capacity memory card. I use a 4gb, and an 8gb (gigabyte) memory card for the digital camera I have. On a side note when I went to Los Angeles in the Spring of 2011, I had both of the memory cards I own with me on the gravecation, I primarily used the 4gb card and barely filled up the memory to capacity. Keep in mind I snapped over 2k photos.

3. Next your going to need various maps of the cemetery. These can be obtained from the cemetery office if you know exactly who you’re looking for ask the office personal if you can get a copy of a map for a specific section in the cemetery along with the cemetery map.

The cemetery map will cover the cemetery listing various sections and small roads throughout the cemetery. The cemetery section map will only list the specific section. The plus side of the section map is that it will list the final resting places of each person in that section in most cases it will have the last name of the person(s) buried in that plot. This is also good for pinpointing which part of that section a person is buried in so you can decide which part of the section to approach the plot based on who is closest to them from the road. This in the long run will save you time trotting around the section in the cemetery. On a personal note I use monuments as way points to how close that monument of someone is to the location of the person I’m looking for. If the person you’re looking for has a monument all the better.

In regards to maps I’ve noticed recently that several grave hunting related blogs and websites now offer FREE cemetery maps in a PDF file format for easy and hassle free downloading. Just do a search on Google, or take a gander at the websites I have linked on the sidebar.

4. Next is a list of the notables buried in the cemetery. I’ve had good luck with these hunting in Elmwood Cemetery in downtown Detroit, as well as Woodmere Cemetery in Southwest Detroit, and various cemeteries in Chicago. These can usually be obtained in the cemetery office just ask if they have a list of the notables buried there. The office staff will usually be more than happy to give you a list for people who are going grave hunting. Some cemeteries now offer books you can buy these books are published by Arcadia Publishing, among other publishers, and usually have a decent amount of grave site photographs with brief biographical info of the notables in the cemetery. These books also include locations in most cases in the cemetery.

5. Next is an optional tool. A camcorder!  These vary in price ranges and can cost a pretty penny if you want a high-end top of the line camcorder. These are useful if your more inclined to take video footage of your hunts. I have a Canon ZR900 and just love using it in the cemeteries.

6. Another optional item is a hand-held GPS system. Again these also cost a pretty penny. I don’t use one for my hunts but I’ve heard of people using them. The cool thing about handheld GPS devises is that you can use them to find the graveside GPS coördinates of famous and/or notable people. The GPS coördinates can usually be found on websites like Find A Grave.

7. Your not gonna get to the cemetery if you don’t have gas in your vehicle. Be sure to have enough gas to compensate for frequent stops in and around the cemetery or if you plan on trekking into more than one cemetery on a given day.

8. Batteries for the camera. If you’re using a camcorder I assume you will have a previously purchased battery pack for the camcorder. Like with the high-capacity memory cards I mentioned above. If you use a camcorder, you’d be better off using a high-capacity battery pack for the camcorder. As for batteries for your digital camera I use Energizer brand Ultimate Lithium batteries. These batteries will assure you a good amount of longevity and an insane amount of photos taken, between the time you have to change out the batteries.

9. A grave hunting sidekick or partner. This one is optional its good to have one for several reasons. One is you will be able to cover more ground in a specific section of a cemetery which in turn will save you time. Another reason is that they will be able to watch your back if your grave hunting in a run down high crime infested part of town.

10. Misc items like a cigar or can of beer would be cool to leave if you went to the grave site of a gangster or a notable brewery owner. I’ve been known to leave single roses, and cigars at Al Capone’s grave site, and cans/bottles of beer at the grave sites of brewery owners.

The Tools:

Now that I’ve covered the basic electronic gadgets used in the field. Next up are useful tools. This list put together  by some friends of mine I then went ahead and joined what they said into one.

1. stiff bristle brush

2.  big sponge

3.  water bottle w/water

4. WD-40 (Used to clean off bronze markers)

5. roll of paper towels

6.  foam knee pad

7. compass

8.  notebook & pens

9.  gardening tools (hand shears, gardening knife)

10.  handiwipes (clean hands)

11. backpack/haversack (to keep tools together)

The above mentioned list was compiled by Jayne Osborne, Lisa Burks, and me (Josh Perry)

The websites:
Some of my favorites include
Find A Grave
Beneath Los Angeles
David Waller’s Civil War Grave Hunter
The Cemetery Guide
Grave Hunter
The Cemetery Project
The list goes on and on (check the links on the side of the main page for a complete listing)

Things to take into consideration:

When I’m grave hunting and I have to go to the cemetery office for what ever reason I always thank the person helping me get locations, giving me maps, etc. Because they are not obligated to help you so it’s always a good idea to thank them for their time. For one thing it shows that grave hunters are friendly people who appreciate the help they get. The same goes when you ask for the help of grounds keepers always thank them for their time.

Another thing I’d like to point out you should always be respectful when you see people tending to their loved ones grave sites. Also its a good idea to avoid specific areas when you see a funeral in progress. You have to show some class and courtesy when grave hunting. Because it all boils down to making us look good in front of the public.

The things I’ve mentioned in the primer should give you a general overview on how to get started, things needed for the hobby, etc. I’ll revise the primer when I feel something new should be added to the primer.

Happy Hunting,


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