Saturday, December 04, 2010

Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records

About twenty years ago the Genealogical Society of South Africa had a cemetery documentation project, which I was involved in for a while. The moving spirit behind it was Peter Holden, who was concerned about the deterioration of gravestones, which because of weathering and vandalism were being lost, and their information along with them. There were many farm cemeteries and no one knew where they all were, so he wanted both the graves and cemeteries to be documented.

Martin Zoellner and I worked on a computer program to make it easy for people to enter information on graves and cemeteries, either on a laptop at the cemetery itself, or from notes at home, and these could all be submitted to a central database.

The scheme got bogged down in a debate on whether the documentation should be an index of names and dates only, or a full transcription of the inscriptions. I favoured the full transcription because it wouldn't entail a second trip to the cemetery to get the full inscription later, and by the time one made the second trip it could have deteriorated even more. Eventually I got bored with the debate and lost interest in the scheme, but I know quite a lot of gravestones were recorded, and put on the NAAIRS computer of the Archives. Peter Holden died, and I don't know what happened to it after that.

Now I've come across a scheme that seems to do what I had in mind -- record graves anywhere and everywhere, with volunteers contributing as much as they can.

Find A Grave - Millions of Cemetery Records:
Find Graves.
Find the graves of ancestors, create virtual memorials, add 'virtual flowers' and a note to a loved one's grave, etc.

I know there are several local schemes for recording cemeteries, and some of them are on the web. But with this you don't have to record entire cemeteries, you can just contribute a few graves you have recorded. Of, if you wish, you can contribute bulk transcriptions, and they provide a spreadsheet template that you can download to use for the transcriptions.

Perhaps South African genealogists could take over where Peter Holden left off, and indeed go back over some of the ground to record full transcriptions where only indexes were recorded the first time around. It is something that local genealogical societies could do as a project, or individuals can do in their spare time.

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