A United Legacy – Cemetery Management Software for Virginia’s Jewish Community

jewish cemetery management software | chronicle

Cemetery Management Software for Virginia’s Jewish Community

Established in 1895, the Jewish Cemetery of the Virginia Peninsula has a long and fascinating history in serving its community. Situated on 1817 Kecoughtan Road in Hampton, Virginia, in the United States, the spectacular granite headstones which mark the plots of this cemetery tell the tale of a community’s history bound by faith.

In fact, this is the tale of two cemeteries uniting to become one. The original cemetery from 1895 began as the Hebrew Cemetery of the Virginia Peninsula, serving the Orthodox members of the faith. But in the 1930s, Rosenbaum Memorial Park, a conservative cemetery, was built adjacent to the first. Even though they were no longer separated since 2002, when the wall of shrubbery which separates the two was removed, the two original gates still stand today – the history of the now Jewish Cemetery of the Virginia Peninsula is preserved. 

Today, it offers separate burial sections for all members of the Jewish community – including non-Jewish members of a Jewish family – that are operated in accordance with the governing principles of the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform movements within the faith.

Having undergone major repairs and renovations over the years, the cemetery now marks a new milestone in its history – Jewish cemetery management software tailored specifically for the use of the cemetery’s administrator, Roy. The digitisation of the cemetery’s map and records is certain to preserve and promote the history of the community, fostering a greater understanding of its intricate legacy.

Deciphering Paper Maps – A Tale as Old as Time

Very much following the traditional form of mapping their cemetery, the Jewish Cemetery had been using an old paper map to visualise plots and burial layouts. For Chronicle, this is not something new – moving away from paper maps and drawings in the process of digitising cemetery management is a large part of what the team does.

While it could be seen as routine in Chronicle’s process, each paper map that we work with comes with its very own set of unique challenges. After all, every cemetery manager works differently, and these differences are compounded over time and as cemeteries grow. These challenges were quickly apparent for the Chronicle team. The team spent a considerable amount of time trying to decipher the map and understand its peculiarities in order to find patterns and meaning in order to move forward.

Three very different design styles were visible on the old map. This led to inconsistencies in both its drawing and design as the map was updated and annotated over the years. To take this old paper map and port it over onto streamlined Jewish management software, making sense of these designs was integral. Yet, it did take some time – what the team quickly noticed was that plot row numbering patterns differed across the old map. It’s this lack of consistency that’s fairly common among cemeteries that still use paper maps. In most cases, the older the cemetery, the more inconsistencies one finds. This often becomes a source of confusion and misunderstanding, especially when management of the cemetery is handed over to a new administrator. Administrators do their best with what they’ve inherited, and make efforts to improve upon old systems of mapping. However, even with good intentions, inconsistent mapping can lead to indecipherable drawings.

“Is this a full row?” the team scratched its collective head, “Perhaps it signifies a full row?”

“But what does this marking mean and how does it relate to the rest of the drawing?”

These questions get asked a lot when deciphering old paper maps, but this was, possibly, the greatest challenge that the team faced when working with the Jewish Cemetery of the Virginia Peninsula. While the cemetery’s babies’ section was not all that well defined on the map, the team did not have much of a hill to climb when dealing with the cemetery’s existing Excel records.

Towards Tailored Maps and Record Keeping

Excel is a common tool for record-keeping, but it is certainly not the best cemetery software for Jewish congregations to use for administration of this nature. While the cemetery’s records were digitised in this format and we were able to make sense of it without much cause for concern, there were a few issues that needed to be ironed out. Since we had to cross-reference these records with the paper map, there were some unnecessary or, perhaps, excessive aspects on the records. Again, with a cemetery that’s 125 years old, this is not out of the ordinary and was dealt with fairly simply by the team.

Gradually, it all began to come together as developed the platform for this Jewish cemetery management software. After understanding the old map and cross-referencing it with the cemetery’s Excel records, Chronicle had an aerial survey of the cemetery performed.

Collaboration and Complexities – Lessons Learned in Jewish Cemetery Management Software

For this step, we worked with Geocgi to perform the aerial mapping. These geographic information system (GIS) experts – or geeks, if you prefer – visited the cemetery site and captured detailed drone images for Chronicle to use on our platform. They lent us their sharp focus and expertise with data and imaging that they’ve honed since 2006 as a geospatial consulting group, providing stunning and seamless, high quality visuals that exceeded our expectations at Chronicle.

Once the aerial survey was complete, the Chronicle team got round to the usual process of placing and labelling plots correctly, ensuring that the new digital map matches the original diagram. Again, however, the nature of this cemetery presented challenges.

The densely-packed cemetery, with its marvellous granite headstones serving as plot markers, offered a somewhat unique and complex digital mapping exercise. For instance, a single, long family headstone may cross two plots on one end of a grave, while single plaques mark the other end. In certain cases, plaques were oddly placed, sometimes sitting unevenly next to each other. 

Quickly learning that the real world sometimes laughs in the face of digital maps, the Chronicle team had to work with care to size up the plots of this intricate, complex layout. Without much leeway in terms of “blank space” between plots, the scrutinous work was eventually complete. As the many visual cues in the form of monuments and other landmarks dot the cemetery, they provide a lot to compare against when drawing digital cemetery plots. While this is helpful, it can also make the smallest mistake appear to be a glaring one.

An Alignment of Stars – The Result 

The result provided Jewish cemetery management software with a visual data map that was worthy of the spectacular, exquisite cemetery itself. Roy, the volunteer in charge of the digitisation process for the local Jewish community, is equally enthusiastic about the outcome. He worked with the Chronicle team from the beginning of the project, investing time and effort into collaborating with the team to help meet his objective of an accurate, aesthetically attractive digital cemetery. His quick feedback and clear communication meant that the Chronicle team had no trouble in aligning his goals with our output.

In fact, Roy has been hands-on throughout, to the point that we shared a version of our QGIS (desktop geographic information system) map with him. He’s been active in making suggestions for various software changes to meet his cemetery’s needs, while also performing his own edits and maneuvering on the map. “And Chronicle has been with us every step of the way, offering suggestions, making tweaks on their end, and promptly responding to our inquiries and requests. I could not be happier.” reports Roy, who describes himself as “a very satisfied and very impressed digital partner” in this endeavor.

A cemetery with the unique character, a long history and its own individual requirements like the Jewish Cemetery of the Virginia Peninsula is not uncommon. Find out how your cemetery’s unique challenges can have a tailored solution with our cemetery software!