Spot On – A Complete Guide to Cemetery Mapping


The digital revolution has not forgotten cemeteries. It’s true that traditional methods of cemetery mapping and record keeping are still widely used among cemeteries today, globally. There are options to consider if you’re thinking of digitising your cemetery and simplifying your process while ensuring accurate mapping. This guide discusses everything we need to know about cemetery mapping and the various methods available to map your cemetery. Whether you want to know what to look for when digitising your cemetery or just want a better understanding of how the process works, we break it down for you below.

What Is Cemetery Mapping?

Cemetery mapping is an integral part of any cemetery that wishes to engage with the public. It’s essential for both cemetery managers and for the public, particularly members of the community which the cemetery serves. The process is all about managing a cemetery’s operations, including day-to-day tasks and access to cemetery plot records and data. It also provides accessibility and direction for visitors to find graves and monuments, and memorials in the cemetery. In this definition of the term, we don’t necessarily speak about how accurate or reliable these records and maps are, because that can vary widely, depending on the cemetery and their current management process.

If you’re involved with cemeteries at the Local Government Authority (LGA) level, chances are the cemeteries functioning under your institution have some form of cemetery mapping system already. It might all be done manually, with pen and paper. Maybe it’s in a semi-digitised format, using tools like Excel for some part of the cemetery mapping process. Or, perhaps, it’s all done on dedicated cemetery mapping software already.

Types of Cemetery Mapping

Overcoming the very specific problems of cemetery mapping has been done in many ways up to now. There are a number of popular ways that this has been done, some of which you may have considered:

  • Traditional, manual methods using paper ledgers and hand-drawn maps
  • Excel spreadsheets and cemetery plot maps
  • Google Maps
  • QGIS (a free, open-source geographic information system to support viewing, editing and analysis of geospatial data)

To aid in accurate cemetery mapping, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) has recently been used for grave detection in order to mark the location of detected graves which have gone unnoticed or unaccounted due to inaccurate mapping or lost/damaged records. This process is non-intrusive and helpful in precisely finding grave sites or realising the exact extent of a cemetery.

Where necessary, Chronicle offers a cemetery GPR mapping service, but greatly improves on this level of precision with the Aerial Image Survey and Grave Coordinate Mapping service. Chronicle sends a surveyor to site where photos of each individual plot (including headstones and plaque) are taken and overlaid with aerial images. Resulting in high-accuracy GPS positioning (with 2cm positional coordinate accuracy), this ensures that a cemetery is able to specifically point out who is buried where – affordably.

The Process of Cemetery Mapping

Traditionally, cemetery mapping was done manually and by hand (for many cemeteries, this is still the way it’s done). Records are known to be kept in a paper ledger and new burial plots, or amendments to old ones, are added by hand. Cemetery plot maps are drawn on paper, and efforts are made to keep the ledger and plot map in line with one another.

While it is possible to keep an accurate map with accompanying records on paper, it has become notoriously difficult, as a result of numerous factors (more about this on “Cemetery Mapping Problems and How to Organise it”). For example, as years go by, management changes hands and new administrators have a different way of doing things. Annotations are written over maps and can be difficult to decipher, creating compounded errors and resulting in records that don’t match their maps. These maps have also proved to be imprecise, giving only a rough indication of where someone was buried so visitors (as well as staff) wouldn’t necessarily find the graves they’re looking for so easily.

Digital cemetery mapping allowed for new ways to keep accurate records and solve these historical issues. Now, the process of creating an online cemetery map with Chronicle achieves a high level of accuracy without the risk of compounding errors over time.

When digitising cemeteries, it depends where the institution is on its journey. If everything is still done by hand, Chronicle works with managers to digitise their records before importing them to a secure database. Once these records are cleaned up as far as possible, they’re ready to be matched and synchronised with the plot map. If the cemetery already has their records on an Excel spreadsheet, which is often the case, they’re combed over to rectify mistakes or duplicate entries, for example.

In the meantime, high quality images are acquired with a drone and existing maps are used as a reference. Plots are then drawn and overlaid atop the detailed aerial images of the cemetery – with precision, accounting for every single grave and monument – before plot IDs are assigned and matched to the records.

The process of digitizing a cemetery.

The Benefits of Having an Interactive, Online Cemetery Map

If deciphering scribbles is something that you don’t want as part of your everyday life any longer, that could be reason enough to migrate your cemetery to an online interactive map. Other than  optimising space and inventory, there are a host of other benefits a digital cemetery map provides:

  • Keeping Records Safe from Damage: Since paper maps and ledgers are susceptible to the elements, including fire and water damage, or getting lost or misplaced, you can rest assured that your records are stored securely on Chronicle’s cloud-based platform. You can also request a backup of your records at any time.
  • Plan and Use Space More Wisely: An accurate representation of your cemetery’s grounds, plots, and monuments means that you’re able to plan for the future better. Knowing that your online cemetery map mirrors the physical cemetery is reassuring when referring to the map at meetings with the board or contractors.
  • Information Is Easily Accessible: While your cemetery’s data is stored safely, Chronicle’s online digital mapping tools are easy to use. This means that both staff and visitors can find records about the deceased and how to find their final resting places without issue.
  • Navigation Is Simple: A hand-drawn map is really helpful to find your way to a cemetery plot that you wish to visit, but an online interactive one makes it far easier. With Chronicle’s mobile-friendly update, the online map directs you to the plot, monument, or other key points of interest that you want to find with our walk-to-plot feature.
  • Preserve Community History: As a place of peace and memory, an online interactive map helps to preserve the histories of individuals who were part of the community and who made an impact on it. Showcase individuals’ stories on each, clickable, digital plot.
  • Confidently Engage with Clients and New Audiences: With accurate cemetery digital mapping, your institution can have confidence in sharing plot information to potential customers. The interactive platform, as a point of pride, can be shared with others outside of town, too, allowing them to engage more deeply with your community when visiting, too.

The Importance of Digitising a Cemetery Map

A digital cemetery platform offers numerous benefits for your institution at many levels. For cemetery administrators and managers, digitising a cemetery on the Chronicle platform simplifies everyday processes. For example, tasks that were previously tedious to accomplish are far easier and less messy to complete with an efficient cemetery mapping program. This is especially noticeable when editing and correcting cemetery plot information need only be done once.

The right digital cemetery gives you accurate, reliable data and greatly reduces the risk of mistakes. In many municipalities or states in countries around the world, cemeteries are now required to meet certain criteria in terms of data accuracy, accessibility, protection and protective security. Chronicle’s digital cemetery, with its secure, cloud-based platform, meets some of the most stringent of these criteria, like those stipulated by the Office of the Victorian Information  Commissioner (OVIC) in Australia.

However, accurate, reliable data as a state stipulation is not just necessary to comply with regulation. An efficient, intuitive, digital cemetery map offers you the time and capacity to do things that matter – engaging with your community while preserving and sharing its legacy. An online cemetery optimises the way your cemetery functions while helping to boost plot sales, brings more people to your cemetery and helps to share the history on which your community is built. Preserving community stories digitally, Chronicle’s cemetery map offers a safe and secure place for the history of the people who made your community to live on.

Contact Chronicle if you need to have your own cemetery map!

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