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Find your ancestor with interactive cemetery mapping

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RIGBY — Finding a single gravestone among hundreds or thousands in a graveyard is no easy task, but in Jefferson County things just got a little easier.

Jefferson County’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Department has partnered with the Rigby Pioneer Cemetery Board to host an interactive cemetery map. This interactive map is available on the county’s website and shows GPS coordinates and other information about each gravesite.

Instead of searching through a cemetery to find a plot people are able to find a gravesite quickly. The interactive map is able to navigate users within feet of a person’s grave with images of the landscape surrounding it.

Through this online software, viewers can tap into satellite images of cemeteries, do name searches and zoom in on specific plots.

This new site also helps voters locate cemetery district boundaries. It also provides contact information for cemetery representatives so people can correspond with them or buy plots.

GIS contractor Eric Smith has been working on this system. About ten years ago he started going up and down the valley and collecting maps, plats, surveys and whatever information he could find for a cemetery.

“I’ve always been interested in family history, and to be able to tie my professional interests in mapping to kind of a hobby in family history is just fun and rewarding for me,” Smith said.

He said the first step in this interactive process is gathering the shapes, or the outline of the cemetery. Next is knowing where people are located, that’s where the cemetery districts come in. Smith is then able to map cemeteries through his geographic information software.

Smith said this site works as a hub for burial information, instead of users having to research from various websites.

“It puts all these maps in one place so you don’t have to go to different websites to look at cemetery data — you just go to one, and you can do it all,” Smith said.

The Jefferson County Commission allowed GIS to start hosting the information gathered by the Pioneer Cemetery board in October. Jefferson County spokeswoman Rebecca Squires said it wasn’t a hard decision for commissioners to make.

“Of course we want to host this data, we want to provide this service for residents in the county and even the nation because anybody can access this site — it’s free to see it,” she said.

Included on the website is the location of all the plots in the cemetery occupied and unoccupied, and dates birth and death, and in some case even the cause of death.

The Pioneer Cemetery Board is the only organization in Idaho offering detailed descriptions of specific plots, Squires said, although information from other counties is also available on the site.

Having this information available online is free to the public, and didn’t cost the county any money. Squires said there is no added cost to the county because it’s using a system that was already available, and on the cemetery’s side, most of the work has been done by volunteers. Regardless, the most time consuming part is mapping each individual plot and gathering data.

InteractiveCemeteryMap

Smith said transferring the information to the county’s system hasn’t been too complicated.

“(The) Pioneer Cemetery formatted the data perfectly for our system. The integration has been pretty simple,” Smith said.

The cemetery board hopes to add more information on graves and show what plots are available for sale and link to websites that help genealogical researchers locate graves.

He said although this project has been unique to Idaho, he hopes to expand this software to other cemeteries in the nation and across the globe.

“Any cemetery who wants to participate in this can, as long as they maintain their records in a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel, then it just kind of gets married to my GIS data, but it takes those two parts to make it all work,” Smith said.

To find out more on interactive cemetery mapping contact Eric Smith at ericsmithgis@gmail.com.

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