How to Manage Cemetery Plot Template in Digital Platform
Whether you’re new to cemetery management or you’ve been in the game for as long as you can remember, managing your records and maps using a cemetery plot template can be the cause of a headache at times. You’ve reached a point where you know that digitising your cemetery is the best move that your institution can take – for you as an administrator, the cemetery trust, as well as for your community at large.
But before you fully digitise your cemetery, there are a few aspects to consider as you begin to consolidate your cemetery data – including both interment records and maps with plot layouts. Bringing all these together can take some time, so how do you start? Using free cemetery plot layout tools as a preliminary step in digitising your cemetery and its processes is a great way to begin. Let’s take you through the important necessary information that you need to know as you embark on this journey.
Data Management Requirements for Cemeteries in the Public Sector
As a cemetery, your organisation and its trust needs to ensure that you meet the requirements set by your particular municipality, state, or country. For example, cemeteries in the Australian state of Victoria must meet a number of requirements regarding how they handle and manage their records and data. In this case, the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) stipulates some core criteria that public organisations must meet in terms of data protection and protective data security. In short, these requirements are all about data protection and are in the best interests of everyone, including cemetery trusts, the public, and the state government.
OVIC’s requirements are worth noting, since this follows a global trend in data protection for public organisations to follow. Similar requirements likely already exist in your cemetery’s locality or are likely in the process of being passed, so it would be wise to check up on them if you haven’t already. We’ll break down a few of the core requirements below – these are worth considering when looking at which free or paid tools you’d like to use as cemetery management software.
Cemeteries must ensure that they maintain the following necessary levels of accuracy, availability, security, and safety in accordance with governing bodies like OVIC:
- Accuracy: For management, it is essential that the interment records accurately reflect their respective cemetery plots, i.e. management must be able to accurately locate a particular physical interment by referring to the interment records.
- Availability: Management must be able to provide public access to records.
- Management must securely maintain physical records or digital computer systems that process and store information.
- The cemetery management must understand the risk and inherent value that comes with the information that they manage on behalf of the community (including consequences of loss of records due to natural disasters, for example).
- Management must validate who has access to what physical or digital systems and information therein.
These are only some of key requirements to meet according to OVIC’s Protective Data Security Plan (PDSP). With these in mind, let’s take a look at how you can design and manage your cemetery plot layout.
Before Cemetery Management Software – How to Design and Manage Cemetery Plot Template
You already know that designing and managing your cemetery plot layout can be a frustrating task – especially when you don’t know where – or how – to start. This can become even more difficult when you, as a cemetery manager, have inherited old maps and cemetery records (and with them, the inherited cemetery mapping problems) that have already passed through generations of administrators before you. This is particularly relevant if you’re tasked with the management of a fairly old cemetery, a cornerstone of your community.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which you can design your cemetery plot template and manage them:
This is the way that cemeteries have been managed for centuries. “Traditional” does not always equate to “worse”. For some, manually designing and managing cemetery plots, reconciling them with the relevant cemetery plot deed template, and being in possession of tangible documents from which to work is what they’re most comfortable with.
At times, it can also work very well. Designing and managing cemetery plots manually may afford a cemetery manager the liberty to draw plots and manage records the way they like. In this sense, manual designs and management may be non-restrictive – all that’s necessary is paper, simple drawing tools and writing implements and you’ve got all you need to design your cemetery. When it comes to historic cemetery plot templates, the manual method means that you’re able to create what you like and amend and annotate on the tangible material in front of you.
However, the manual method is taxing and has shown to result in more than the occasional late night, particularly when preparing your cemetery maps to show a new client or to have readily available according to global and/or local data protection requirements. What happens when your cemetery design changes? Manual methods leave you mostly unable to make changes related to this issue. Another frustration is also that it can waste loads of time! Managing your cemetery requires zero error. Think about it – you’re dealing with (possibly) thousands of sensitive data entries on two fronts. This means that you’d require double the effort since you’re keeping your eye on both your paper ledger and the cemetery map. Inputting, checking, and maintaining accuracy this way has proven to eat away at time for many cemetery managers.
Thinking back to the beginning can be romantic – your cemetery map was likely drawn by a professional draughtsman or surveyor and it looked great! Yet, over the years, they moved from one manager to the next, gathering inconsistent annotations that made no sense to the manager who inherited the maps. Today, you’re left trying to decipher symbols and markings every time you need to refer to your map and records.
Digital management of cemeteries has become increasingly popular – as is expected in the digital world of today. Cemetery managers are moving from manual methods of cemetery management to digital cemetery management software of some kind. Sometimes, digital methods of designing and managing plots are used in conjunction with manual methods. For many, managing cemeteries digitally ideally cuts down on the time spent to complete a task, so it all depends on what is achievable through digital means.
One of the biggest benefits that digital management affords are simpler ways of keeping track of cemetery records and maintaining their accuracy in relation to cemetery plot maps. By using digital tools, you’re able to do this using a cemetery plot template, for example. What this means is that information can also be shared far more easily, without additional steps that may be involved using the manual method. Using templates can drastically reduce organisational time and lead to more consistent record keeping. Ideally (we’re using this word again), digital means of record keeping and plot layout aids in managing a cemetery more comprehensively, without spending too much time trying to decipher handwriting and unfamiliar logic systems.
Digitally designing and managing cemetery plots makes fulfilling the requirements of governing bodies easier to perform. It certainly takes less effort to maintain consistent, accurate records if you record data digitally, instead of manually. Also, records can more quickly be accessed on demand, while digital storage can be more resistant to risks like fires, water damage, and so on. Of course, this is true provided there are off-site backups of the data should a disaster occur.
Security of digital records and plot management are not always guaranteed. In light of the numerous data breaches occurring on databases globally, this becomes a significant concern. If you maintain your cemetery records and plots digitally, then, you’d have to ensure that the programmes and systems that you use, whether cloud-based or not, are sufficiently secure behind digital lock and key.
Most digital applications and programmes, however, are not designed to be used as dedicated cemetery management software. While the use of some programmes are more helpful than others, it’s fairly difficult to get a free cemetery plot template tool that has been developed solely with cemeteries in mind.
Pros and Cons of Different Cemetery Plot Design Tools
Whether you choose to work the traditional way or choose to manage your cemetery digitally, being aware of the various free templates to lay out cemetery plots is necessary. At this point, you’ve probably become acquainted with one or more of the following tools – manual and digital. We’ll break them down a little further to offer a more balanced look at both their benefits and drawbacks.
Easily the most ubiquitous of manual methods, pen(cil) and paper are undoubtedly handy. In terms of designing plots and being free in drawing them exactly how you want your cemetery layout to be represented, this has been the way to go for generations now.
While it may offer you some freedom, using paper leaves you with numerous documents to cross-reference after you retrieve them from their storage space. Through the years, the same paper records have seen scratchings and annotations made on top of each other, leading to maps and records which are difficult to understand. Paper, as we all know, is highly susceptible to being damaged or lost in the event of a natural disaster, resulting in the loss of critical community records if something were to happen.
Paper maps and records are also not easily shareable – a requirement in today’s world both for prospective clients and communities. Holding on to paper records for historical purposes is great, but moving these records and plot layouts over to a digital platform makes today’s requirements simpler to fulfill.
Excel is the first port of call for many who make the move from manual, paper records, to digital. Spreadsheets are superior to handwritten records, that’s for sure, but they’re not the best solution.
Excel was not designed to handle cemetery maps and match records to a cemetery plot layout. Yes, Excel files are shareable and a spreadsheet is highly useful in keeping cemetery records together in a logical manner. One of its major problems for your goals, however, is that it suffers from limited mapping and diagram functionality.
Maintaining clear links between records and physical ground location is problematic, clumsy, and frustrating when using Excel. Let’s look at it from a more practical perspective. Reality and spreadsheet maps rarely correspond! The spreadsheet map is neat, featuring straight lines creating orderly grids, but the actual cemetery that it represents has rows that curve and plots with odd spacings between them. Individual plot widths vary, too. And when a new lot was created in your cemetery to squeeze in an individual next to their spouse? Spreadsheet maps don’t accurately communicate that either – even with those annotations you made.
This means that one of Excel’s major drawbacks is its inability to maintain accurate data. It’s useful in being a halfway house, if you will, between moving from manual records towards a dedicated cemetery software platform. Its functionality is useful in creating an Excel cemetery plot template to consolidate your records before making that move.
Excel can be used as a shareable document, but without cloud-based accessibility, your documents are not easily accessible if you’re away from your workstation. While an Excel cemetery plot template is free to use if you’ve got the software, its lack of security management and poor data quality means that you’d be better off looking at other solutions.
Miro is touted as one of the finest visual collaboration platforms out there to create, collaborate, and centralise your data across your organisation. Its free pricing plan offers only 3 editable boards, which could actually be fine to design and manage cemetery plot layouts. It also allows anonymous board viewers, catering for governing bodies’s requirements about availability of records. This cloud-based platform means that you can access it from anywhere there’s an internet connection, while you’ll also have that peace of mind knowing that they take digital security very seriously.
Still, for cemetery plot layouts and records, we find that it’s better suited to internal processes but not that useful for the “finished product” in cemetery management if you’re looking to show potential clients available plots. Miro also doesn’t have any templates that you can use for cemetery plots – each cemetery is different, in any case. Stay tuned with this blog because we’re going to post a guide on how to create a cemetery plot map in Miro soon!
Cemetery managers are increasingly seeing the potential of Google Maps as a tool for cemetery plot layout, particularly due to the aerial images that are available. The custom map functionality allows you to include your own data as an overlay onto the aerial map on their platform. For this to be helpful, you would likely need a professional to create your digital plot map first so you can upload it. Alternatively, you could manually add a pin for each burial.
While custom Google Maps functionality is free, the man hours involved are incredible and the images available cannot accurately help you with plot layouts. Definitive plot outlines are difficult to make out, even if you zoom all the way in. It’s difficult to pinpoint an individual plot with this tool, and, while you’re able to label markers and make annotations on the map, this can become cluttered quickly.
It’s a secure and future-proof platform, according to Google, but it’s not much more than an interactive satellite photo .
QGIS is a free, open source geographic information system that allows for cross-platform use. Primarily, this program is used to support viewing, editing, and analysis of geospatial data. Essentially, this is the kind of program you’d be looking for if you wanted to accurately map out your cemetery plot layout. While you may have the programme to work with, however, you’ll still need to capture high quality aerial images of your cemetery first.
The platform ticks the box of availability, as versions of your cemetery map can be made accessible to others, but make sure to have appropriate backups as QGIS is a user application. For adequate security, it would require that you encrypt your files – the programme doesn’t secure itself.
QGIS has a simple, user-friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI), but it is not beginner-friendly as you’d need a background in geospatial mapping to begin with. Even with the many online tutorials available, it can be time-consuming to learn.
First Steps Towards Consolidating Your Records & Using Excel Cemetery Plot Template Effectively
Having looked at the free tools available for you to use in designing and managing your cemetery plot layout, we find that an Excel spreadsheet is a great way to begin. As we’ve mentioned, none of the above free tools is able to seamlessly manage cemetery processes, but they are helpful. Follow these next steps to begin consolidating your digital records in Excel:
- For a good set of data, always ensure that one row of data is different to the others: 1 row must contain 1 unique set of data. The same entries might appear in more than one column (property) – the ID column, typically. Check for duplicate data in this ID column, specifically. You can easily do this by following these steps:
1. Select the column you want to check for duplicates.
2. Click Home > Conditional Formatting > Highlight Cells Rules > Duplicate Values.
3. In the box next to values with, pick the formatting you want to apply to the duplicate values, then click OK (this will allow you to highlight duplicate values).
4. Now, all duplicate data in this column will be quickly apparent.
- In keeping data rows different to each other, you can sometimes have the same name and section number. The differentiating property? Plot number.
When working with a team of software experts, they’ll help to create the person ID, combining with it all properties of grave location (section, row, and plot number).
- You cannot leave 2 types of information blank when consolidating cemetery records and data – grave locations and interment names. If some dates are missing, you can clarify this issue later.
- Grave location properties consist of section number, rows, grave number, and status (occupied, vacant, or reserved). Usually, every field is not filled out – some of this data could have been lost to age.
- Properties with interment names should be as follows: first name, middle name, surname.
- If you notice that you’re missing data regarding date of birth, date of death, and interment date, don’t worry. What’s important is to have names that are in line with grave location, at the very least.
In ensuring that your records are accurate and compliant when tidying up your records on Excel, take note of the following:
- Look out for different numbering formats in your properties/columns. What does it mean when some numbers have a dash or other random elements included? Is this just a typo or does it hold significance left by previous management? Should you revise the rest of the entries to match this format or should it be left unique?
- Excel is designed mainly for computations of large numbers, so you’ll find that maintaining data integrity for double plots, skewed plots, etc. to be rather tricky.
- The goal in using Excel effectively to manage your records is to make this information available for use to anyone authorised in the cemetery management team. Retrieving data quickly is key – but retrieving inaccurate data wastes time and effort for you and the next generation of cemetery managers.
- When in doubt, ask for help in completing data sets. Never guess, even if it appears simple. Dealing with historical data means that different or incorrect records will translate to misinformation about a deceased person’s life.
In digitising your records onto an Excel template, you’re bound to identify missing records, duplicates, damaged, and incorrect records.
Excel Records Are Tidy – What’s Next?
Once your Excel data is consolidated and tidied up, you’ll be able to retrieve written cemetery data far more quickly!
However, Excel is not built to create visual data maps that integrate cemetery records, diagrams, and maps. You’ll find that you’ll save time working with a logically laid out set of data, but it’s still necessary to work with a separate cemetery map when you’re searching for relevant plots.
After consolidating data, you may be wondering about the best way to have your data and cemetery map in one place – easily accessible and intuitive to navigate.
Moving Forward with a Digital Template
It may seem like a daunting process at first. The thought of getting stuck into mountains of records full of names, burial plot IDs, cemetery plot deeds, and reconciling them with their correct spots on an already difficult-to-decipher map keeps you up at night. But we assure you, once you undertake the task, you’ll begin to realise that your community and the next generation of cemetery managers deserves to have this legacy organised efficiently and accurately.
With better organised records, you’ll also notice that you’ll be able to serve potential clients more confidently – matching interment records with plot IDs won’t take hours of searching anymore. This is just the first step in moving towards a dedicated platform which guarantees that you’ll meet state standards while also benefiting from a streamlined, stunning visual plot map of your cemetery.
Ready to take the first step? Download our free Excel template to help you consolidate your cemetery plot records here.