Should You Use Flour to Read a Gravestone?

This is new to me, but I found it interesting so I thought I would do a post on it.  Apparently there is a big debate going on in gravestone-reading circles about whether or not flour, a substance often used to help read faded old gravestones, will damage the stone.

 Dick Eastman weighs in at his genealogy newsletter:

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 http://www.gravestonestudies.org/faq.htm 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.”