Map and records search: St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Parish Cemetery,
Location: Indiana, United States
- 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
Over 150 years old, the St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Parish cemetery is a longstanding institution and integral part of the Elkhart community of Indiana. Regarding its maintenance and management, it has largely been run with the help of volunteers. Like many cemeteries that lie at the heart of their respective religious communities, this Catholic cemetery has faced a number of obstacles in accurate record keeping and cemetery mapping throughout its history.
Common Issues Faced by Community Catholic Cemeteries
While the cemetery is certainly grateful for the community’s help, there are certain patterns that are evident when it comes to cemetery mapping and records management done this way. The lack of uniformity and protocols over the years have, inevitably, led to inaccurate records and maps and a difficulty in working with funeral homes. These, in turn, have made it more difficult for grieving families to mourn without the added stress of easily locating burial spots (with spot duplications adding to the woes of the public and cemetery staff).
Cemeteries operated by religious groups and orders are often used by specific entities. Many of the cemeteries across the United States are church graveyards, and these numerous religious cemeteries account for a large proportion of the absolute number of cemeteries in the country. Individuals buried in religious cemeteries may be restricted by religious beliefs, but the cemeteries vary in the amount of rigour required. Some religious cemeteries, like the Catholic Church, allow only orthodox practitioners, while others operate according to open and neutral principles. A diocese catholic cemetery is located in each region.
Considering the issues that St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Cemetery was facing, this is where Matthew Pletcher comes in. Having served as the Catholic parish’s business manager until his retirement in 2019, he offered to fill in until a replacement for him could be found. When no replacement was hired after three years, Matthew still finds himself working there – without complaint, of course. The satisfaction of the role, in great part due to actively being part of an institution that caters to a religious community, is motivation in its own right. However, Matthew is tasked with the management of 4,000 interments and 6,000 available plots – not a walk in the park. Finding oneself in this role in the cemetery industry is far from uncommon, and is one that many a cemetery administrator can relate to.
He needed to document the interments, but his goal was something bigger. Matthew needed to find or develop a sustainable process of doing so; something that would last beyond his tenure in the role. This is where his research began. Like many other cemetery managers who choose to work with Chronicle, Matthew performed extensive research, looking at the various options available in cemetery software for community cemeteries out there.
How to Digitise a Historical Community Cemetery
With over 150 years of history, digging burial plots and all the (not always) quiet goings-on in a parish cemetery, along with the non-uniform record keeping and mapping practices as management changed hands over the years, many things don’t line up.
Now, Chronicle usually follows a similar mapping process when helping administrators digitise their cemeteries. It goes a little something like this:
- We capture high quality aerial imagery of the cemetery using a drone.
- Then, we draw out a digital plot map over the true-to-life drone imagery, clearly showing each and every burial space, monument, and feature.
- We collect records from the cemetery (paper ledgers, Excel spreadsheets, maps, etc.)
- The records are combined with the new map on one, intuitive platform.
Depending on the state of a cemetery’s existing records and maps, the length of this process varies. Due to the compounded inaccuracies of St. Vincent DePaul’s records, Chronicle has been helping Matthew and his team of volunteers to clean up, clarify, and verify their records to match the real life parish cemetery. Admittedly, this has been a long process of correcting the existing information, as Matthew’s team has been cutting and snipping from photographs of the cemetery, taking notes on PDFs, and shifting plots and lining them up with the actual headstones in order to verify records.
It was clear for Matthew that it would take a while to update their records, but Chronicle team was there to help at every step of the way. It helps that the parish’s team of volunteers make lighter work of the process – a luxury (and asset) that not all community cemeteries are fortunate to have. And, while updating their records is still not wholly complete (which, for cemeteries, is an iterative process, anyway), Matthew and the community of St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Cemetery has already begun to enjoy the benefits of working with the Chronicle platform
Strengthening the Core, Serving the Congregation
To put it plainly, Matthew has reported that the parish has been getting great feedback since taking digital cemetery live and showing it to the community. He further explained that for the public, like families or individuals, there are a number of immediate benefits. Families now have a ready-made map to navigate through the cemetery – whether from their homes or on-site, using our latest mobile-friendly update.
For other Catholic parish cemeteries, it’s good to know that Matthew has also reported some key internal benefits that came with the new digital cemetery:
- Chronicle facilitated plot sales.
- Provided the staff with immediate access to know the status of any plot, at a glance.
- Locations can be shared in the office, making for clearer communication.
Even for St.Vincent DePaul’s partners, working with the Chronicle platform has facilitated a smoother process, making the grieving process simpler for families in the community. For example, if a grieving family visits a funeral home, they’re now able to gain a far better understanding of the cemetery’s plot and layout without having to make an extra stop. All they have to do is contact a parish sexton with the exact location or plot ID and request to open or close a grave.
While these advantages are beneficial for internal staff and their partners, it’s important to note that they’re clearly a boon for the wider community, empowering families and individuals alike at some of their most vulnerable moments.
Why Should the Board Invest in a Digital Cemetery?
In the case of St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Cemetery, Matthew explains that it was rather evident that the institution had a problem with their records and mapping.
Since most of the board are volunteers, Matthew realised it was his responsibility to present what he thought was the best choice in software for a Catholic cemetery: Chronicle. There were no objections. In fact, the board agreed when they understood that Chronicle keeps an accurate perpetual record and facilitates a simple process of documenting the records and maps of the cemetery, along with its events and work orders. And for Matthew, he’d have the confident peace of mind to leave St. Vincent DePaul in future knowing that a process and platform is in place to keep things running smoothly and uniformly.
For Matthew, the simplicity of the platform also makes a difference, as he believes the learning curve for his replacement (and other staff) is very short.
While he just had to answer a few questions on how Chronicle would help St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Cemetery to meet their goals, Matthew understands that gaining the board’s approval may not be so simple for other religious community cemeteries. His suggestion for similar community cemeteries is to clearly outline the issues that the institution faces, which are fairly common: records have become increasingly inaccurate over the years, families are faced with difficulties when locating plots, and no protocols to work with partners like funeral homes.
For Matthew and the board, their responsibility to their community is paramount. If he had to approach another board at another community cemetery, he would emphasise that Chronicle helps grieving families to make informed decisions – quickly and without a lot of obstacles – in their time of or even before the need. Chronicle provided this parish cemetery with a process to begin correcting issues which are very familiar to administrators of similar cemeteries, eliminating the problem of missing records, duplicates, flat sales, and incorrect interments. If you’re currently managing a cemetery under a diocese or other religious community, Chronicle has some experience to share with you and will be happy to work with you in managing your cemetery.