Sunday, November 14, 2010

SDGS 11/13 Program Review - Heirlooms and Cemeteries

Attendees at the San Diego Genealogical Society meeting on Saturday, 13 November, were treated to two well-prepared presentations by Hal Horrocks, who is active with the Orange County, California Genealogical Society.  He spoke on two subjects:

1)  Preserving Your Heirlooms:

Deciding what to save, give away or toss is difficult because there are emotional considerations along with financial considerations.  As the curator of "the museum of you" you need to make these decisions.  Make a list and ask Who, What, When and Where, then prioritize the most important items.

Preserving artifacts, heirlooms and photographs is a challenge because of light, humidity, temperature, contamination, biological attack, and use or handling.  There is a reason that museums allow little external light and have darker rooms and a controlled environment.  Cool temperatures and low humidity are recommended.  Keeping heirlooms in archival boxes prevents insects and rodents from damaging them.  Wool corrodes most metals, silver tarnishes in air, plastic cling wrap is corrosive for metals, and body oils and duct damage photographs.  The more use and handling that heirlooms experience, the more likely damage is to occur.

Different types of photographs and film need different handing and care.  Photographs used for display should be duplicated from negatives if possible, or a digital copy made, and the originals preserved.  Photo albums and archival storage should be acid-free, and any plastic sleeves should not be polyvinyl chloride.  Slides, negatives and movies should be stored in a cold place. 

2.  Cemeteries - What They Tell Us

There are four general types of cemeteries - government owned (national, state or local); church owned; business owned; family cemeteries.  Each type presents unique problems and opportunities.  Death and burial customs vary over the years and by religion and culture.  Many older cemeteries have tombstone symbols on the gravestones to convey a message. 

Exploring a cemetery with the eye of a detective may yield names of persons buried, their family relationships, their religious beliefs, their social standing, their cultural symbols and their artistic ideals.  When exploring a cemetery, observe without altering anything; take photographs, make sketches or notes; note the cemetery setting, layout, surroundings and marker types.  Attempt to determine the history of the cemetery, and of the locality that it serves. 

Hal visited Key West, Florida on vacation and used that cemetery as his example for the presentation.  His observations of the history of Key West, the layout of the cemetery, the type and size of the markers, the information on the markers, the use of family plots, the condition of the cemetery grounds, and other factors can be noted.

A short list of online cemetery records was provided (including,,, was provided.

Hal's 11-page handout consisted of most of the text from his presentations, and may be available on the SDGS website (

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