Chronicle

Map and records search:Digitising the Japanese Cemetery of Colma,

Location: California, 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

The Japanese Cemetery of Colma (JCC) was established in 1901 and sits at 1300 Hillside Boulevard in Colma, California. It was formed to unite the Japanese community in California and has worked with Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian religious organisations. The cemetery plays a pivotal role for the community, especially considering that Colma’s dead outnumber its living.

Its oldest interments, however, predate the establishment of the cemetery. A significant historical monument at the cemetery is that of three crew members who died aboard the Kanrin Maru, a Japanese warship, on the very first Japanese Embassy to the United States of America. The sailors were initially buried at Marine Hospital Cemetery in San Francisco, but were later transferred to another cemetery in the city before finally resting in Colma.

Learn how the Japanese Cemetery at Colma digitised their records with Chronicle as we  ensured that their unique and specific requirements were met.

Multiple Datasets and the Need for Uniformity

With 10-20 interments a month, the cemetery had between 4,000 and 5,000 records being managed in older programs, including Excel. Their cemetery map consisted of old diagrams that were in the process of being turned into something more professional by a surveyor – a process that still continues today as the map is being matched to cemetery plots. All this data needed to be converted to the Chronicle platform, and it was possible.

Their administration team is not tech-savvy, and with something of a language barrier, they required community cemetery software that’s simple to use.

After performing independent research, they found Chronicle online and signed up on our website. Our primary contact at the Japanese Cemetery has been Yuji Mitani, who was happy to pay for a trial of our software.

Their existing physical filing system kept almost all of their recent paperwork; a system implemented by Norbert on the cemetery’s team. Their records were also kept in books, FileMaker software, and Excel. While Norbert manages to keep track of the database from home, other team members have trouble accessing the file on the older office Mac due to using an old version of FileMaker software.

They used various systems to collect various types of information. They used QuickBooks in 2019 to collect financial data. Data collection and recording were different across these systems, which meant that one, uniform system did not exist. 

Meanwhile, each record consisted of lots of data. For example, they recorded “deceased family” and ‘next of kin’ in their records. In most cemeteries, these two terms have the same meaning. However, for the Japanese Cemetery, “next of kin” refers to the family members of the deceased, such as children, parents, siblings, and so on. If the original buyer dies or moves away, the “deceased family” contact information is critical. 

Additionally, they faced difficulty updating income data as early as 2020 because of COVID19 and individual situations of the members. 

There was a back and forth between Yuji and the Board as he informed them of Chronicle’s software, capabilities, and cost. As the cemetery is owned and funded by the Jikei-kai Japanese Benevolent Society of California, the Board and relevant stakeholders were involved in the decision-making process.

Creating Specific Solutions with Community Cemetery Software

Japanese Community Cemetery Deceased Search Software

The cemetery team were confident with the state of their records and map at that point. For Yuji and other cemetery members, we added some information of occupied plots, but left some blank as it helped them to get the hang of using Chronicle.

Combining the map provided by their surveyor with a Google satellite image map for the background, we began to trace individual plots from the diagrams they supplied. Then, we merged this with their records to create an interactive, searchable map. The surveyor that the cemetery has been working with has not yet completed the mapping portion of the rest of the cemetery.

While Chronicle’s digital map needs to show plot location, the cemetery required the surveyor’s map in order to identify plot ownership (comparable to a legal description of home ownership). We offered to draw them a graphical map, instead, which Yuji favoured as it would speed up their mapping process. Yuji also preferred the graphical map for its aesthetic appeal.

Yuji took the results to the Board members once the trial was over in July, 2021. While they were satisfied to a degree, they asked for a list of modification requests, tailored to their needs. These included the date format changed to match the USA (mm/dd/yyyy), visibility control for records to limit what the public sees, and a mobile version of Chronicle. Additionally, they requested a number of modifications to our platform’s entry boxes necessary for their data sets, which include :

  • Next of Kin 
  • Family Representative
  • Marker for non-ROI holders 
  • Data field to track family plots and interments (necessary for their unique data sets, like Next of Kin search, Family Representative, Right of Interment, data field to track family plots and interments, and others).

Preserving and Engaging with History, Efficiently

We worked with Yuji to create solutions for each of these requirements, ensuring that no detail was spared. As for the mobile functionality, we implemented the update for all cemeteries on Chronicle and went fully mobile in 2022!

The Japanese Cemetery staff and community around it now benefit from the convenience of navigating the grounds to appreciate their history more easily. Moreover, the cemetery is able to:

  • Manage their institution and find where interments are located more easily with their digitised map and records
  • Pinpoint and identify vacant plots at a glance
  • Preserve and enrich its community’s history.

The mobile-friendly update is not the only one of Chronicle’s latest features that Yuji and his team use. He uses the community cemetery software platform to contribute to and make accessible the legacy and history of all those who contributed to Colma.

Feature Story – Increasing Accessibility to the Japanese Cemetery’s History

Using our Featured Story and online memorial – Yuji attracts visitors to numerous historical monuments that are highly significant for the Japanese diaspora community, both for California and the rest of the United States.

These online memorials, accessible to the community from their smartphones while visiting the cemetery or from the comfort of their homes, add to their legacy while enriching the cemetery experience. For the Japanese Cemetery, Chronicle Featured Stories helps to bring rich detail to the institution’s monuments, allowing visitors, taphophiles, and history enthusiasts to further appreciate notable figures and events in the community’s history. These include:

  • Monument of the Kanrin Maru Sailors tells the story of the mission of  three sailors, among the first Japanese people buried in San Francisco, who died of seasickness while on the first ship to cross the Pacific Ocean under Japanese command.
  • The 7 Immigrants Memorial was built in 1902 in honour of seven Japanese immigrants, and others, who died when the American ship, The City of Rio de Janeiro, ran aground and sank, leaving no relatives behind. This accident motivated the Jikei-kai to establish a cemetery in Colma.
  • The War Memorial Tower, erected in 1976, honours the Japanese-American servicemen and women who died while serving in the military of the United States of America.
  • The Abiko Monument explores the life of Kyutaro Abiko, a leader among Japanese immigrants to the United States who strove for the betterment of his community. Abiko died in 1936.
Japanese Community Cemetery Deceased Search Records and cemetery map Software

The newest feature, Life Chronicle, also helps people connect with their community on a deeper, more meaningful level. It allows members of the community to add their stories to cemetery plots and monuments, promoting a more authentic view of history – in one central, digital space. The Japanese Cemetery values this feature as these histories are integral to its community and hopes that others can build the legacy by sharing the stories and memories of their loved ones. 40% of every story in Life Chronicle revenue goes back to the cemetery, helping to uplift and maintain the resting places of our loved ones. 

Find out how your cemetery’s unique problems can have tailored solutions with our community cemetery software!