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Cemetery Preservation and Social Media

Graveyard with social media logos superimposedIn many ways, social media has been a boon to those who want to preserve cemeteries and the gravestones contained within. Platforms like Facebook (recently renamed Meta), TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and others can provide quick access to information on numerous topics.

Looking for information on a specific cemetery? Tagged pictures can be a great start. Trying to figure out where your ancestors are buried? There’s a group discussion amongst folks with similar interests that can help. What does the symbol mean on your great-grandmother’s tombstone? Someone has done the research and posted it.

Where social media struggles is the sheer amount of information and its reliability.

How do you know the social media “experts” have really done their research? How do you know that the information that you are finding can be trusted? Sometimes it is as easy as checking the sources they cite. Do they not cite their sources? That can be a red flag. Maybe you can ground truth their information by visiting the cemetery yourself. Over time, you can develop a sense of whether or not a person on social media is doing their due diligence.

Unfortunately, there is so much information out there it can be hard to check them all and make sure they are trustworthy. Where social media (and internet sources in general) can really fail is when they are giving advice on how to preserve a gravestone. How can you tell if the person online really knows their stuff when it comes to cemetery preservation? The truth is, unless you are a professional in the field, frequently you can’t.

Screenshot of NCPTT websiteSo what can you do to make sure that the information you are getting from social media is true and that what they are telling you to do won’t hurt your gravestones in the long run? Frequently it can be as easy as contacting an expert in cemetery preservation. Jason Church at the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology (NCPTT) is very experienced in cemetery preservation and is a great resource for those interested in learning more about it. He can be reached at Jason_Church@partner.nps.gov.

Keep in mind your source. Is the information from a well-known and trustworthy institution or is it just from someone with a lot of followers? Has the person graduated from a recognized training program or are they “self-taught.” Is what you are watching on TikTok entertainment or part of a well thought-out educational program?

The moral of the story is be careful out there in the lands of Social Media. There is a lot of great information, but there is even more information that is well-meaning and wrong or simply designed to sell you the latest cleaning product that may damage your stone.

When in doubt, you are always welcome to contact the experts at the Department of Historic Resources for more information about your cemetery preservation needs. We can be reached at gravematters@dhr.virginia.gov. Stay suspicious on social media!

–Katherine Ridgway
DHR Conservator

Resources:

NPS Preservation Brief 48

NCPTT Cemetery Restoration Resources


Updated: November 11, 2021