Particularities in Digitising Cemetery Records – Warracknabeal Cemetery

Map and records search: Warracknabeal Cemetery

  • Digitalised cemetery records
  • Physical survey of the cemetery grounds
  • Interactive online cemetery map
  • 24/7 online access to plot/cemetery information
  • Customised database management solutions delivered at a highly affordable price

Very much the epitome of a rural Australian town, Warracknabeal is situated in the Wimmera region on the Yarriambiack Creek. With just 2,400 permanent residents, this sleepy town holds a history in its cemetery that’s vital in preserving the story of Australia.

With approximately 7,300 interment records, the cemetery is divided between faith and culture-based communities. A stroll through Warracknabeal Cemetery allows one to explore the Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Lutheran sections, as well as a section for the historic Chinese community, and niche walls where ashes are interred.

Its records begin in sombre fashion, even as cemeteries go, as they commenced on the 25th of May, 1875 with a stillborn child with the surname Mitchell. In its lawn cemetery, one finds the first burial to be Neil Alexander McQuinn on the 1st of August, 1969. In true community spirit, Warracknabeal Cemetery endured over the years, particularly through the help of volunteers, whose support did not go unnoticed. In fact, the second gate of the institution tells of its gratitude to all volunteers in the community.

Age-old Tales & Some Surprises

As old institutions go, Warracknabeal Cemetery offers more than a century of history and it does not disappoint the curious traveller. For the community, this institution is a treasure trove; a place of living legacy from which the town of Warracknabeal draws inspiration and to which it pays respect. As with most large Australian cemeteries that were established back in the late nineteenth century, the Chronicle team had more than a little work to do in order to consolidate the records that have been accumulated over the years.

One might think that having a ledger book creates some kind of order. To a degree, it does, but this cemetery seemed to have worked a little differently over the decades. When looking between their paper records and their hand-drawn grid map – dating back to 1991 – there’s a glaring feature that our team noticed immediately: the inherited numbering system was carried out in a disorderly fashion.

We’ve mentioned this before and we’ll mention it again – the illusion of ordered data can often be far worse than unordered data. In this case, the rule applies. Without an orthodox numbering system in place, the team needed to work manually. Usually, our tools do this for us automatically, but we had to adapt after what we had found.

In light of this, the digitisation process was slow to begin with. Still, we found a way to work together with the cemetery’s management to find order in the 4,000 records that we had some trouble making sense of.

Clearing the Muddied Water – Expertise & Communication

With a large number of unmatched records, the Chronicle team was left somewhat disoriented. Still, many cemeteries of this scale have similar problems when it comes to their records, and we worked through them with Warracknabeal Cemetery. It all depended on tackling issues systematically, employing a wealth of expertise, a cool head, and thorough communication.

A good cemetery management team always looks for ways to handle their data in the best way possible. For many who don’t use – or have access to –  dedicated cemetery database software, organising records and cemetery plot maps, using Excel can be a good way to keep data fairly organised. Warracknabeal Cemetery, like other institutions who take their community histories seriously, were doing just that. Although their Excel records were not unified, they were still kept well. 7,300 records were simply laid out, consisting of 8 columns. These, of course, were adapted from their paper ledger book – a common first move in digitising records on the way to cemetery database software. But, as mentioned, incomplete data led to quite a challenge to overcome.

In terms of numbers, we were able to match approximately 3,000 records to the map that we created for Warracknabeal Cemetery. If you’ve been keeping up, that left us with more than 4,000 records unmatched – a large chunk. The team was faced with a daunting task, but with dedication on our side and the client’s side, we pushed forward to find matches for those records.

 

This is where communication comes in. Speaking to Judi, the cemetery trust secretary, she confirmed what we had thought – the maps were, indeed, not accurate. Likely due to a compounding of errors across the generations, these records became more and more difficult to keep track of when not consistently managed and organised.

The best way forward, then, was to work digitally from that point on. If the old maps were not matching the records, we needed to begin with material that was correct and move forward from there. Chronicle’s partnership with Metromap allowed us to directly acquire aerial images of the cemetery, and we collaborated to create a stunning visual map for this small town’s institution. At this point, we achieved a stable footing of some kind.

Once that was done, it was up to Judi to do some fieldwork. While we matched what we could – still a large amount of data – Judi walked through the cemetery and manually input data into the Chronicle platform using the new digital map. She filled in relevant details for all plots that were not already on the database, while also editing plot IDs that differed from the current records.

The Living Legacy of Warracknabeal Cemetery

As our projects prove, the team never backs down from a challenge. This project, consistent with the team’s track record, came to fruition. Warracknabeal Cemetery is now live (digitally and with a living history), showing off accurate records, along with beautiful headstone photos taken by Judi herself.

After using Chronicle, it became all the more apparent to Warracknabeal Cemetery that hand-drawn maps can be misleading. Yes, they’re helpful and fulfil a certain role, but since they’re not to scale, it’s far more detrimental than beneficial a tool in a cemetery as dense as this one.

The simple interface is easy to navigate, and with colour-coded plot markers, vacant plots are immediately visible, making it that much easier to sell. The same applies for reserved and occupied plots – cemetery management and members of the public can spot them at a glance without having to consult the records separately. In the end, after wading through thousands of records and mismatched records that resulted in a very particular set of challenges, this community can benefit from a preserved, accurate legacy. If you can relate with Warracknabeal’s problems in managing their records and maps, let us know. If not, find out how your cemetery’s unique problems can have tailored solutions with our cemetery software!