Four Tales of Digitising Australian Cemeteries in Victoria

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  • 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

Cemeteries and the digital realm seem like two contrasting ideas, but useful digital innovation can be applied across industries. Yes, the cemetery industry is one where things move a tad slower than elsewhere, but meaningful, practical change should be adapted where possible.

For cemetery management, record-keeping and accurate mapping are a priority, both for legacy and for profitability of the cemetery as a business. This is where digital record-keeping and mapping comes in, saving time and frustration, and helping communities preserve their histories. Yet, going digital is a broad term and doesn’t always mean more accurate or efficient mapping and record-keeping. Certain programmes, like Excel, have been used widely but come with a host of issues since they weren’t built for the unique niche of cemetery management. For some, knowing where to start when going digital can be incredibly confusing.

Nothing’s Impossible

YouTube tutorials or explanatory articles don’t really apply to your cemetery’s unique context and issues. Your expansion projects, funding concerns, operational resources (including manpower) and even the thought of a feasibility study could lead you to abandon the idea altogether.

It shouldn’t. Have a look at some of the latest projects we’ve assisted with in digitising Australian cemeteries in Victoria. These offer a detailed picture of varied cemeteries, their differing operations, and what going digital meant for them in the long-term. Each cemetery has their own, specific goals, circumstances, and status, but all have successfully gone digital (or are well on their way). If funding is an obstacle for your cemetery, some of these cases illustrate how Chronicle has assisted in procuring grants to complete cemetery digitising projects from Australia’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Victoria.

Visions of Expansion - Warrnambool Cemetery

Arguably one of the most renowned institutions of its kind in Victoria, Warrnambool Cemetery was one of our larger projects. With a maximum of 200 interments per year, this cemetery has inevitably found the need to extend, which is why it now consists of two cemeteries; Tooram Memorial Park being the new expansion located nearby.

Getting Warrnambool Cemetery and Sheryl – Chairperson of the Trust – on board was no quick task. In fact, it took over a year for them to join Chronicle. For a large institution like Warrnambool Cemetery who were further expanding to 55-hectare Tooram overlooking the seaside, they needed to make the right decision for the long term. Understandably so, since Tooram is expected to serve them for the next century and a half. Sheryl sought a cemetery management system that incorporated digital mapping.

With their plans for the future and a responsibility to their community, their standards were high. Before Chronicle, they ran a semi-manual management system. Excel record-keeping, combined with their three-year run on dated software that functioned as an online burial web search didn’t do the trick for them – their records were not really being managed. For a notable local institution, Warrnambool Cemetery wanted to be at the forefront of digitising Australian cemeteries in Victoria.

But how would they create backups of current Excel records? What about the cost? Other trustees had raised their eyebrows at first, uninterested, after our first proposal in October of 2020.

Requirements, Competition & Good Conversation

Chronicle was not the only choice – other cemetery software was also in the running to win Warrnambool’s hand. But our mapping expertise, combined with our desire to understand their specific needs in full – both the cemetery’s history, current context, and future plans, helped Warrnambool make their choice. It’s a conversation that took more than a year for good reason.

Even while they considered counter offers, we stayed at Warrnambool’s side and listened to their specific needs and helped to tailor a solution for them. After joining our webinars in November 2020 and January 2021, Sheryl and Warrnambool grew in confidence towards us.

We shook on it and thus began a working partnership as we brought Warrnambool onboard. The bulk of our work involved helping Sheryl and her team by migrating all their old data over to Chronicle. The activity was migration-heavy; data and records from multiple sources were collated, sorted, and reorganised onto our far more intuitive, dynamic platform.

For us, the case of Warrnambool cemetery proved how flexible the Chronicle team can be. By engaging with the Trust, we provided options, offering multiple presentations about what’s possible for their unique situation. In the end, this is what helped us to beat the competition – going above and beyond to tailor a solution for a potential client, even if our paths were to have diverged.

Finding Funding - How Yarragon Cemetery Went Digital

Located in the city of Baw Baw, Victoria, Yarragon Cemetery exemplifies the kind of small, rural cemetery that still does things the old-fashioned way. In October 2020, having spoken to Graeme, he seemed content to continue the way they’ve always been managing the cemetery, showing no interest in going digital. After all, Yarragon is small – he saw no obvious challenges in managing their records, comprising two to three copies of paper copies, all stored in a single location. They worked with paper maps, too. Soon after, however, Graeme voiced his concern over the cost of digital mapping and that’s when Chronicle realised that he faced an obstacle which many cemeteries, like Yarragon, are dealing with – funding.

Graeme referred us to Angela, Yarragon’s secretary, with whom we had a chat about their records situation. Angela saw the potential, joining our OVIC webinar a few months later, in January 2021 and that’s when we identified their specific requirements. Yarragon dealt with paper, and lots of it! This included death certificates. All these records needed to be digitised, and one, single map needed to be created. Up until then, they were moving between two to three different maps of their small cemetery to keep track of plots. But how would they get the help they need without funding?

We stepped in, encouraging them to apply to DHHS for a grant in March. After all, DHHS prioritises what we do – data security, the ability to share information while maintaining confidence in records through accurate record keeping and easy access to data. We simplified the process for Yarragon, having sent them a simplified grant templated, prefilled with Chronicle details and the scope of work required. All costs were outlined for their specific cemetery digitisation project with a 5-year software license.

Straightforward. The primary issue was solved after the grant was approved in April of 2021. All we had to do for Graeme and Yarragon after that was to transcribe their paper records, extract information, and digitise it all, while simultaneously rebuilding an accurate digital map for them after identifying unmarked graves.

Kangaroo Ground Cemetery - Urban Transformation

With approximately 70 interments per year, the old, medium-sized cemetery of Kangaroo Ground consists of about 5000 records. It was a mixed bag as some records were on Excel while some sets were on paper, dating back to 1851! They kept their records in Excel and Google cloud storage, but Kangaroo Ground used Excel grids as maps, too. What we continually find with Excel plot maps is that they may look neat and tidy, but are in no way representative of the real world. Cemetery grounds are not accurately represented on neat Excel grid maps, especially when you find multiple burials in a single plot. It creates some confusing situations down the line.

Kangaroo Ground is growing and plans to expand by two thirds (at least), and their current way of managing records involves referring to Excel spreadsheets, confirming what’s available, and showing those to potential clients. Speaking to them in February 2021, the administrators knew the importance of digitising Australian cemeteries in Victoria and what it meant for their progress. They needed real, practical digital maps, along with one interface on which they can update their records and see what plots are available, owned, or reserved. They were using a disjointed system where records were kept in three different places. This needed to be kept on a database that contains all the rights of interment details where they wanted to be able to attach relevant documents, like death certificates. Kangaroo Ground were thorough and sought quotes from other solutions providers.

Our team has a uniquely amicable and helpful approach, and, as with Warrambool, Kangaroo Ground appreciated it. Excuse the pun, but we buried the competition, helped Kangaroo Ground to secure partial fulfilment of their grant application, and worked with the records that they supplied to us electronically. After preliminary analysis and a discussion with their administrative team, we solved discrepancies, combined maps and aerial imagery with their records, and presented Kangaroo Ground with their new, intuitive platform with integrated mapping. Additionally, all relevant parties benefited from our online training on how to easily manage their digitised cemetery.

Spring Hill Cemetery - A Story of Hope in Digitising Australian Cemeteries in Victoria

A very small cemetery with a long, and somewhat sad backstory, Spring Hill Cemetery’s first burial was recorded in the 19th century. The cemetery had 120 records – all on paper – but their map, including many records, and even headstones and monuments were lost in a devastating fire that occurred thirty to forty years ago.

With damaged headstones and no map, the inability to locate and identify burials led to a neglected cemetery. The spark of hope was alive because Spring Hill intended to reopen and sell plots again. They just needed help getting on their feet again by identifying all plots and locating buried bodies. A small, inoperational cemetery fallen into ruin, it all seemed a pipedream without funding.

Chronicle stepped in, by helping them apply for the DHHS grant in the March 2021 period, which they were glad to receive in May. 

Providing them the tools to transfer their paper records onto an Excel spreadsheet from which our team could begin working, they found volunteers to perform data entry. Additionally, Spring Hill received funding to geo-map a small part of their cemetery so burials without markers could be located by using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) – a process on which we lent a helping hand to fulfil the overall objective.

Once geo-mapping is complete, the Chronicle team will be able to perform an aerial and headstone surve. Everything above ground and below will soon be fully surveyed before we fully recreate Spring Hill Cemetery’s records and map in stunning, intuitive digital format. It may sound unique, but we’ve dealt with “Spring Hills” before – one of them being our client in the United States.

Tailored Solutions, Moving Forward

Every cemetery is at a different point in its journey but Chronicle’s up for the challenge and we’ll overcome it together, no matter the concerns. Some cemeteries were partly digitised, some were doing it all the old-fashioned way. Funding proved to be the largest obstacle in the way for smaller cemeteries, while others dealt with very unique backstories. We’re all for resourcefulness. Find out how your cemetery’s unique problems can have tailored solutions with our cemetery software!

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