Controversial Manner To Enhance Readability of Cemetery Grave Markers Noted on Dick Eastman’s Blog (YouTube Video Link Included)

Hi Everyone!

We are quickly running out of summer!

Summertime is often our best time of the year to venture out into the world of on site cemetery research before the days of fall and winter return back to our area.

I just saw an entry in Dick Eastman’s Online Genealogy Blog about a controversial manner of enhancing grave marker readability.  Illegible gravestone markers are a common occurrence for all genealogical researchers.  And the general rule of thumb is that it will definitely be YOUR gravestone markers that are illegible while the gravesites right next to yours are all pristine and readable!!

The posting by Dick Eastman seemed to indicate that there is a controversial manner of enhancing reading illegible gravestone markers by using flour!

It is apparently controversial because flour will interact with water and expand.  Consequently, any flour that may remain in any tiny microscopic crevices on the gravestone marker could be cause further deterioration by inadvertently triggering expansion of the marker material and further deterioration.

Following is the text in Italics from the Dick Eastman blog post that describes the concerns of using flour on illegible gravestone markers in your cemetery research:

William Jerry (Champ) Champion has created a YouTube video that shows a quick and easy way to read and photograph grave markers that are worn or have become discolored. In years past, genealogists have used a variety of materials to improve legibility of tombstones, from shaving cream to chalk and a variety of other materials. However, most of those methods reportedly damage the stone to some extent. Many of the materials are abrasive and also may leave chemicals behind that cause long-term damage. However, Champ claims the use of flour creates no damage.

Not everyone agrees. Some so-called “experts” will tell you that flour is harmful because it can penetrate into small pores of the stone, and, when wet, the flour will swell and can cause flaking of the stone. Some also claim that flour contains yeast, which encourages the growth of lichens and micro-organisms that can then live and grow in the stone, causing expansion and cracking. Technically, flour does not contain yeast when first ground. However, yeast floats in the air most everywhere and may land on flour, where it may flourish.

I do question the qualifications of all these so-called “experts.” I therefore turned to the Association for Gravestone Studies’ web site as this is the nationally-recognized expert organization. I’d believe whatever the Association for Gravestone Studies says. The Association’s web site at has a long list of things to never do, and it cautions, “Don’t use shaving cream, chalk, graphite, dirt, or other concoctions in an attempt to read worn inscriptions.” Flour is not mentioned although it might qualify as an “other concoction.”The Texas Historical Commission’s web site has an online brochure at that cautions to never use flour, but the qualifications of the author(s) are not listed.Fact or fiction? The video shows that the use of flour is very effective; but does it cause long-term damage? I don’t have a degree in chemical engineering or any expertise in the growth of micro-organisms, so I won’t make any judgment. I’ll let others decide. However, until I see something in writing from a person whose credentials give some assurance of the person’s expertise, I won’t be using flour for any of my tombstone work.

You can watch the “flour video” at

Posted by Dick Eastman on August 11, 2011 in Preservation | Permalink
It sounds like the jury is still out on using flour to enhance readability of gravestone markers.
Think about this method during the final couple of months when your cemetery research can be productive before winter sets in.  Strike while the iron is hot to get yourself to a cemetery for your research now.  Don’t put off until tomorrow.  Your cemetery research can really be very productive in your research.
I hope that all the gravestone markers you encounter are perfectly legible for you and that you never encounter one that might require you to haul out your bag of Pillsbury’s well-known product to dust onto the gravestone marker!
Tony Kierna
Genealogy Coordinator
Schaumburg Township District Library

3 responses to “Controversial Manner To Enhance Readability of Cemetery Grave Markers Noted on Dick Eastman’s Blog (YouTube Video Link Included)

  1. I really enjoy reading your blogs, Tony. Thanks for the help you recently gave me.

  2. Tony, the jury really isn’t out. It is a bad practice and here’s why. First, flour promotes the growth of lichen. Lichen damage stone by holding moisture to the stone, creating acids that attack the stone, and obscuring the stone. Second, flour does not readily wash off; instead it cakes on the stone, disfiguring it. Third, stones are not ours to treat in a cavalier manner — they belong to the families that erected them and to future generations. And fourth, there are other, equally convenient and simple, methods that do no harm. For example, using a flashlight to create a raking light across the inscription, maximizing shadows. Or using a pocket size reflector and the sun to do the same thing.
    Mike Trinkley, Ph.D.
    Chicora Foundation, Inc.
    Columbia, SC

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for adding your clarifying comments on why the use of flour to enhance readability on gravestones should NOT be done.

      Your comments and your authority should make researchers pause if they were ever going to use flour as a gravestone readability enhancer.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment to the original post.

      Tony Kierna
      Genealogy Coordinator
      Schaumburg Township District Library

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