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When our ancestors laid carved stones to mark the graves of loved ones, they likely thought the stones would last forever. But time and the elements have eroded away the stones, leaving just a hint of the original markings.

While little can be done to undo the damage, proper cleaning can help stop further deterioration. And taking a quality photo of the words and markings on the stone can preserve the history it holds, says Jarrod Roll, who along with his wife, Heather, operates Save Your Stones.

Jarrod Roll, of Onalaska, Wis., also is Monroe County historian and director of the Monroe County Local History Room and Museum in Sparta, Wis.

Through his work, Roll became acquainted with Ralph Hendersin of Sparta, who has done extensive work in educating the public how to care for aged or damaged gravestones.

When Hendersin hosted a workshop for area cemetery caretakers on how to care for stones, an overflow crowd showed up and learned how to care for the stones, but few of the caretakers showed an interest in doing the work, Roll said.

As time went on, Roll said, he had more people seek help in caring for the stones, but few wanted to do the work themselves. Most wanted to hire someone to do the job.

That, he said, was when the idea of starting a side business came up.

“I thought, ‘I’m trained how to do this. I’ve done it before. In grad school I learned how to clean stones,’” Roll said. “So I decided to get Ralph’s blessing to allow me to go out and do this is as a side job … and we got started.”

Through his work with Save Your Stones, Roll said, he is able to provide a service for people who want to care for loved ones’ stones and to preserve history at the same time.

“There are a lot of people who don’t live in the area but want to make sure their family’s sites are looking good and being cared for,” Roll said. “It feels good that we’re able to provide them with some peace of mind.”

Because birth and death records were poorly kept until the early 1900s, Roll said, gravestones often are the only way to reliably document vital genealogical information.

But many times the stones included additional details about a person’s life that are being lost the longer the stone is left to deteriorate, Roll said.

Save Your Stones serves cemeteries in La Crosse and Monroe counties, at a cost of $50 for one stone and $25 for each additional stone in the same cemetery, Roll said.

Roll starts each job by taking digital photos of the stone. He and Heather then thoroughly clean the stone and take additional photographs. They then give the customer a print of the final product and send along digital copies of the photos that show the stone and its surroundings.

This not only shows the customer the final product but also documents what is on the stone.

To preserve this important information, Roll takes photos of the stone from various angles. These photos are designed to show what is left on the stone for family records, but it also could be used to regrind the stone or to produce a replica if the family wishes, he said.

Roll said the cleaning techniques he uses are the best way to clean the stone without doing additional damage.

“There’s a fast way, there’s a simple way and there’s the right way,” Roll said.

“We use a safe, non-ionic detergent that will not dissolve the stone.”

Some businesses use acid-based power washers to clean the stones. While that may remove the dirt and grime, it also takes away layers of the stone, which could cause long-term damage.

“We want to do what we can to make sure people use the right technique to clean the stone, even if they don’t hire us,” Roll said.

“We discourage power washing and stress they should never use wire brushes.”

Dan Springer can be reached at dspringer@lacrossetribune.com or (608) 791-8269.

Business of the week

WHAT: Save Your Stones, which cleans aging gravestones using techniques that will not further damage the stones and will help slow deterioration caused by the elements. Service provides digital photographs and one print of the cleaned stone, to help document information on the stone for family and area history.

WHERE: Serving cemeteries in La Crosse and Monroe counties.

OWNERS: Jarrod and Heather Roll

COST: $50 for one stone and $25 for additional stones in the same cemetery.

WEB SITE: www.saveyourstones. googlepages.com

CONTACT: (608) 317-7562 or saveyourstones@gmail.com

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