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 Probing for lost stones & parts is a slow tedious process that requires difficult efforts to discover the missing stone or part. I write this in an attempt to get more folks involved in finding lost stones, because the more we have looking, the more stones that can be recovered.

I will use a common case to show the "how to" of the procedure. It is for a husband Robert Clark, A Revolutionary War Soldier who died 1837. In the below his stone is missing, and his wife Rebecca d. 1825 The wife's stone is still standing. We are looking for the Robert Clark's stone which is buried next to his wife. Her at this stage, unknown husband lived several more years he likely did not live long enough for the styles of stone to change to the multi part monument. Therefore chances are he has the same style stone, assuming he was given a tombstone and not just a fieldstone. If his death was after about 1875 (in the south) the monument could be one of those multi-part stack type. In that case at least some part of the monument usually survives to tell us there was a grave stone. In that case and others we at least have some idea what we are probing for.

This is an actual example of finding a lost stone in the Clark Cemetery in Madison County Alabama. Notice the photo on the left shows a yellow "X" where the lost stone resides under the ground. There at the yellow X the effort was focused with the probe to uncover this stone. This photo on the right shows the uncovered stone with the brown stains on it. It is common procedure in H/W burials to have the wife buried on the left side of the husband as is the case here. This stone was probed for also by the knowledge from the book Madison Al Tombstone inscriptions that there was a grave here, but there was no sign of it as you can see from the photo with the "X". To find it an imaginary straight line was drawn due northward from the wife Rebecca Clark's standing monument (light colored one on your right- 2nd photo)  at a distance of about 4 or five feet. Probing began and eventually that familiar dink was felt and heard. We then moved over about 6 inches and again went down 4 inches and received the same response and repeated that enough that a pattern was developing. So I took the shovel and dug down and found the edge of the stone at several places and began uncovering it before lifting it from the ground. There was a footstone RC but based on the alignment it should belong to Rebecca Clark and not Robert Clark. I did not come to this cemetery that day with restoration plans so the stone bottom was set deep enough into the ground to make it stand and the top part was propped against that making sure no inscription was resting against a contact point. This prevents the inscription from being worn away as movement always occurs  between the two parts.

As for those older long stones like our monument for the lost husband they have bases or bottoms that are buried sometimes up to three feet into the ground. Therefore the cause of falling is that the stone is set too close to the (eastern) front of the softer grave soil and they topple in as the grave sinks. This is usually rare. In most cases the long type stone breaks off. With investigation the only way you would not know there was a stone there is that the breakage occurs at or below the ground level. The top part in that case has toppled into the grave sink and become covered in the sinking soil and debris. I find these sometimes and usually they are no more than 4 inches below the surface. If the grave is on a side of a slopping hill the top sometimes falls and may slide down the hill over time and may no longer be near the grave. That makes the stone or parts very hard to find especially if they are covered in debris. Kids will pick up the parts and throw them further away from the grave also. Also misguided relatives wanting to mark a grave somewhere else in the cemetery will pick up parts of the stone and use them to mark the grave of their relative who does not have a stone.

When I get that familiar clink from the probe bumping the smooth stone at a consistent depth is gotten  I dig them out and set them back up. In rare cases the fallen stone is deeper than 4 inches but in that case most times I miss them because I don't probe much deeper than about 4 inches. If the stone top is deeper than 4 inches it is probably lying in the grave sink. An even worse scenerio is for a tone covered up in a grave sink and a good Samaritan comes along and fills up the grave sink forever hiding most of the evidence of presence of the grave.

I must add here off subject it is good to get old limestone monuments back up from the soil. Leaving them on the ground thus keeping them damp can cause the stone to crumble in the long run and the closer to the surface the fallen stone is located the more danger of crumbling there is. This is because the stone is then subjected to extremes in changing temperatures of the weather, but if it is out of the ground enough to dry quickly after rain then it is safer from the cracking that could occur from being wet all the time.

If the base is sticking out of the ground and next to a spouse's grave that is your clue that the rest of the stone of the lost spouse is nearby. However there are cases of the top of the stone missing because of vandals stealing it. Another unfortunate event occurs when the stone was soft (defective anyway) and the wet ground basically melted it away to never be found again. Many times the stone crumbled because there was a forest fire that burned it creating a softer stone that eventually begins to crumble away. Sometimes you can find the crumbly parts still present but that depends on the extent of the crumbling away. I am only referring to the old soft limestone or sandstone type tan or gray monuments, because modern granite monuments do not crumble though they can be broken by falling trees and vandals.

To make a grave probe get a 3 foot or more screw driver (found in specialty hardware stores) and sharpen the end with a grinder by slowly rotating the point against the side of a moving 3,000 RPM grinder, dipping the point in cool water as you go to keep the steel from becoming brittle.  This sharpening process makes the tool dangerously sharp on the end, so handle this with care, and of course use protective gear to make this tool. You can fashion some kind of wax ball to add to the point to make it less dangerous while not in use and also keep the point sharp.

Maybe with a little luck someone will uncover a stone which has been missing for a lost member of a heritage search group. I know I have discovered several of them in my time not listed in the cemetery books nor anywhere that I know of, but sometimes the stone was just missed.

C. Wayne Austin, 12 Jan 2014. Revised Jul 2015