Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Call for GPS use in Cemeteries

A call for genealogists and historians to straighten out cemetery descriptions and names of cemeteries, through the use of the Global Positioning Satellite system, (GPS.)

The names of cemeteries change all the time. Each generation called their local cemetery by different names. In some cases they are referred to at various times by the surname of a prominent family that is buried there, or perhaps by the name of the farmer or person that donated the property. Sometimes they are named for the religious group or church property on which they stood. Sometimes they are named by their physical location.

I know for a fact that in the little town that I grew up in, one of the nearby cemeteries was known variously as “Rice’s Hill Cemetery,” “Oak Hill Cemetery,” and the “Cowles Cemetery.” If any of those names were used we all knew where it was. When I got older and was interested in genealogy and curious enough, I searched at the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) and the Onondaga County Public Library (OCPL) for information on people buried there and discovered that researchers before me had named this cemetery variously as “The West Hill Cemetery,” and “The Clark Cemetery.”

So different names for different time periods, yet they all refer to the exact same little burial plot.

Dick Wright, the President of OHA, had gotten into the habit of filing all of the Onondaga County cemeteries in file folders categorized under the “Military Lot Number,” with a written physical location description at the top of each list. For instance, so many miles, in a certain direction, from a specific intersection or landmark. This indeed took care of the problem of various names for the same place throughout different time periods, at least for Onondaga County.

Another case in point is the excellent work that Cliff Lamere has put up on the Internet for research in the eastern counties.

When Cliff built this very helpful website he describes collections and holdings in various repositories and also described the Rickard Cemetery Index for Columbia County. Rickard lists multiple gravestones in many different books and files, by different names, but they all refer to the exact same gravestones.

So how do we straighten out this mess and keep the problem from reoccurring from generation to generation?

Well there is one thing that does not change. That is the physical location of the gravestones. So if we start using a handheld GPS device to record the exact coordinates of either specific gravestones or even if we just stand at the main entrance to the cemetery and record the latitude and longitude, it would help greatly for all future generations of researchers.

So I encourage all of you readers to start recording this data and sending the results in to the various GenWeb coordinators and publishing the GPS coordinates in all NYS cemetery listings.

Dick Hillenbrand

Upstate New York Genealogy

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