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Digital Cemetery Preserves Legacy of City Residents

Headstones and flowers in a cemetery.

August 5, 2013 By

Residents of Marion, Ill., now have a convenient way to locate the final resting places of those buried in the local cemetery -- a GIS-encoded online map.

The city’s IT department in August released a user-friendly online map of hundreds of cemetery plots in the City of Marion Illinois Cemetery, a large, four-in-one cemetery that includes the Rose Hill, Maplewood and Oddfellows cemeteries. In about a year, all 35,000 people buried there should have their locations uploaded into the system, creating a permanent record to help visitors easily find and pay their respects to the deceased.

Marion IT Director Terance Henry said the project became a priority after he realized that the cemetery was one of the few realms of public service that does not have any checks and balances in place to protect against data loss or confusion. The information about the people buried in city cemeteries was contained in old paper maps and records, or kept by individual cemetery employees.

“My fear was that our directors or people that run our cemetery, if they were to retire or leave then we just lost 20, 30 years of data with them,” Henry said.

In addition to marking the GIS location of each burial plot, the new mapping system also contains information such as date of birth and burial type. William Barrett, Marion’s GIS coordinator, helped digitize the cemeteries’ paper maps as a starting point on the project.

Plot entries are being added to the system on a daily basis using handheld Trimble GPS devices. The mapping software was provided through Legacy Mark, a Pennsylvania-based company. The data is uploaded into the city’s server and automatically posted to a public database that is integrated into the online map. The project cost approximately $15,000.

“It’s definitely a very user-friendly, modernized cemetery and once it’s all done we should never have to worry about double burials or losing someone’s information or even fear of vandalism because headstones got knocked over or moved or damaged,” Henry said. And that wasn't the case before the map was digitized. “If we had a fire or something of that nature, we would have lost that data.”

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RealOscar    |    Commented August 8, 2013

As an amateur genealogist, I recognize the immense value of such a project. As someone who had a deceased relative placed in a wrong burial spot, I guarantee the value. The cemeteries in my area rely on the paper records of caretakers who may or may not do things the same as the next one. We got the shock of our lives when after confronting one on a mistake, we were told "I didn't want the job, it's just that no one else would take it!". I am afraid of the extra cost, though.

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