Pre-survey work: what to do before you start recording
Before you start you need to find out more about your graveyard. Particularly, whether the site or any of its gravestones and features are listed or scheduled. If your graveyard is listed or scheduled this will determine the type of recording you can complete and who to contact for advice and permission to record. To find out if your graveyard is listed or scheduled consult Historic Scotland’s Listed Buildings of Scotland and Scheduled Ancient Monuments lists on PASTMAP and contact your local authority planning department.
Check if any earlier recording work has been completed for your graveyard. Save duplication of effort and make sure that your work has the widest possible future application by checking if your new survey can be cross-referenced to any earlier work. It is a good idea to check both local libraries and archives as well as national collections. Researching Your Graveyard offers guidance on consulting information held in archives and libraries across Scotland. The Scottish Genealogical Society compiles a list of published and unpublished memorial inscriptions held in their library.
Do not start work without receiving permission to record or before contacting people who may be able to help you. If you are unsure who owns the graveyard, contact your Local Authority Manager in the first instance. The Church of Scotland (property and Endowments) Act 1925 transferred responsibility for most Church of Scotland graveyards over to local authorities. As a result, the vast majority of graveyards in Scotland are owned and maintained by local government. However, a number of graveyards remain in the hands of religious bodies, private trusts, private commercial ventures or private individuals. In some cases the person(s) undertaking graveyard maintenance may not be the actual owners of a graveyard. A list of organisations and individuals who may be able to assist you with your recording project can be found in the contacts section.
Check if it is possible to find any financial support for your recording work. The free booklet Sources of Financial Assistance the Conservation of Scotland’s Historic Graveyards provides information about sources of funding for projects seeking to conserve sites or to enhance the enjoyment of graveyards through research, interpretation and education.
Ensure that you and your colleagues are fully briefed on working safely in graveyards.
Check you and your colleagues are aware of the appropriate course of action to take for overgrown or buried gravestones. Basic guidance on dealing with vegetation on gravestones and historic structures more generally has been prepared by the National Trust (England) and the Chicora Foundation (USA). A methodology to locate, and record buried gravestones has been developed by the Moray Burial Ground Research Group.
Fieldwork: how to record gravestones and graveyards
Many different types of information can be recorded in graveyards and the focus for fieldwork will depend upon the resources available and your own particular interests. It is desirable to complete all of the steps below, however this may not always be possible in practice. In the future, someone may want to use your work for their own research or wish to complete one of the steps that you didn’t. Following the guidelines below will make sure that others can easily re-trace your recording methods and thinking and allow your efforts to have the widest possible future benefit. It is important that to check for any earlier work before you begin your own fieldwork so that you can note any mistakes or any changes that have taken place since the previous survey was completed.
Making a record of the graveyard site itself. In the past emphasis has been placed on recording gravestones, in particular memorial inscriptions, but the Council for Scottish Archaeology’s Carved Stones Adviser Project has developed a new initiative to record graveyards as individual burial landscapes. A free Introduction to Graveyard Recording booklet and form are available.
Making a record of each gravestone. To encourage a standard approach to taking information from gravestones, including inscriptions, the Council for Scottish Archaeology’s Carved Stones Adviser Project has devised a gravestone recording form but forms are also available in Betty Willsher’s How to Record Scottish Graveyards (available to purchase from Archaeology Scotland) and in Harold Mytum’s How to Record Graveyards (available to purchase from Archaeology Scotland). The project has also created an expanded form, which can be used to detail and investigate gravestone condition. The Carved Stones Adviser Project has also produced a range of field guidance notes to help recorders on the topics of making a graveyard plan identifying stone types, identifying lichen, moss and algae and identifying stone decay. The free booklet An Introduction to Graveyard Recording contains basic information about gravestone designs and carvings.
Remember to take appropriate action with buried or overgrown gravestones. Basic guidance on dealing with vegetation on gravestones and historic structures more generally has been prepared by the National Trust (England) and the Chicora Foundation (USA). A methodology to locate, and record buried gravestones has been developed by the Moray Burial Ground Research Group.
Taking a photographic survey of the gravestones and graveyard. Comprehensive guidance is provided in Tom Grey and Leslie Ferguson’s 1997 booklet Photographing Carved Stones published by the Pinkfoot Press, which can be purchased from the Publications Department, Scottish Conservation Bureau, Historic Scotland.
Making a graveyard site plan to show the position of memorials and other features.
Making gravestone rubbings can cause significant damage to gravestones. Before starting any rubbings seek professional advice and always follow best practice. Historic Scotland provide preliminary guidelines for making rubbings of carved stones for scientific purposes.
Post-survey: what to do when you have finished recording
Once fieldwork is complete: Organise your survey archive and make copies available for public consultation. The Researching Your Graveyard booklet gives details of local and central archives where you can deposit a copy of your work.
Make sure that you submit an entry to the Archaeology Scotland’s Discovery and Excavation in Scotland describing your survey work.
Decide whether you wish to interpret the results of your survey. Ideas for research topics and examples of previous studies are found in the bibliography from Researching Your Graveyard.
Decide if you wish to publish your work or present your findings in another way, for example online. Find inspiration amongst the work of the graveyard groups and preservation trusts included in the Graveyard and Gravestone Trusts and Projects section of this website.