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MN GIS/LIS Consortium
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Cemeteries: From Paper to Computer
By Dave Deschene, retired Dodge County IT Manager, GIS Novice
In the simplest of terms, cemeteries are about the business of selling spaces, coordinating burials, and maintaining the grounds. The managing boards frequently consist of retired, unpaid volunteers who have inherited paper records and maps dating back 100+ years, often lacking specific burial locations of the interred. Funding is typically very limited, with lawn mowing constituting the most significant portion of their annual budget.
While PC-based cemetery information system software is commercially available, its cost can be prohibitive for many small cemeteries. The commercial software usually consists of a basic “database only” version, where all information about sales, burial spaces, and interments is recorded, and an enhanced version which adds a mapping module to the database.
A few cemeteries in southeastern Minnesota are modernizing their record keeping and maps with limited funds by mimicking the functionality of the commercial cemetery software via donated office suite software and a free GIS viewer, TatukGIS Viewer.
The Conversion Process
The first step in the process is to create an electronic version of any paper maps of the cemetery, showing all individual burial spaces. Most cemeteries are divided into sections, blocks, lots, and spaces. If an addressing scheme does not exist, it is created, and each burial space is given a unique address. If an aerial photograph of the cemetery exists, it is obtained and added as a layer in the cemetery map/GIS being developed. The aerial photo is useful in verifying that the lot and space dimensions used in the map are correct.
Once the electronic map and addressing scheme has been created, and lot and space dimensions are verified, the cemetery can be “walked”. Since the existing paper records are often incomplete, the only way of determining the exact burial location of an individual is to gather information from cemetery monuments and stones. Since lot boundaries and addresses are not often obvious when walking through a cemetery, the electronic map enables the placement of temporary marker flags to indicate lot boundaries.
Volunteers walk the cemetery, recording names and dates interred for each space within a lot. This information is then entered into a spreadsheet and verified against any paper records the cemetery might have. Once verified, the information is imported into a database, and reports are created for the cemetery board. The database information is joined to the burial space attribute table in the GIS, allowing the printing of maps with specific information concerning the interred in each cemetery space. TatukGIS Viewer is used by the cemetery board to view the cemetery aerial photographs and map shapefiles.
Participating Cemeteries and More Information
The Minnesota cemeteries involved in this project include Riverside Cemetery in Dodge Center, Wildwood Cemetery in Wasioja, Kenyon Cemetery in Kenyon, and Pleasant Prairie Cemetery in Rochester. They all have plans to post maps and burial information at their cemeteries and selected libraries, aiding visitors in locating graves of interest. In addition, the City of Kenyon, upon data review completion, will include the Kenyon Cemetery’s information on its web-based online mapping site.
For further information, contact Dave Deschene at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-214-3132.