“In the older half of Cathedral Cemetery, we have never had reliable paper maps to work off of,” said Mark Christian, Director of Cemeteries at the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware. “This makes family service difficult, and today’s families have been conditioned to expect quick access to information. We used mobile technology to address this challenge.”

To map the cemetery and provide easier access to families and visitors, Christian worked with webCemeteries.com, a cemetery technology company out of Pennsylvania. Christian’s goals for the project were threefold:

  • Capture accurate map locations for older sections
  • Provide easy online access for families
  • Provide easy mobile (on-field) access for families

At the end of the project, cemetery staff would be able to print paper maps to help visitors navigate the cemetery, visitors would be able to search the nearly 61,000 burials through the cemetery website and print paper maps, and staff would be able to use the cemetery’s own mobile application from the field to have GPS navigation throughout the cemetery.

Mapping process

All of the burials were already recorded in a database, but older sections were not mapped on paper and could not be mapped using traditional electronic mapping. This meant that two mapping approaches would be needed.

The paper maps for the newer sections provided a simple template for creating electronic maps in these areas of the cemetery. These paper maps were used to calculate the location of each lot on a satellite map of the cemetery, providing a familiar mapping interface for families to use.

In older sections where there were no reliable paper maps, another approach was needed. Cathedral employed new cemetery mapping technology to map these spaces from the field. Using a mobile application, each marker was photographed in these older sections. The photograph captured not only the image, but also the longitude and latitude of the space. This data was sent to an online portal where the images and coordinates were matched to the corresponding record in the burial database.

Once the image of the marker was linked to the burial record, the location was displayed on a satellite map of the cemetery. For many of the unmarked graves, the location coordinates of marked graves were cross-applied to provide an estimated location. The vast majority of the plots were mapped this way, accomplishing the first goal of the project.

Online Access

Next, to provide easy online access to families, Cathedral Cemetery published a searchable database of their burial records on their website. “Families today are expecting quick and easy access to information. If they do not find it with us, they will find another resource for their information,” says Christian. “We would rather the family come to our website to locate their loved one, get accurate information, see our brand and reinforce the Catholic burial tradition.”

By visiting their website, the public can search the burial records and view information (only public information such as the name, date of death, and location in the cemetery is available). Visitors can view the location on a satellite map of the cemetery (which can be printed), and for graves in the older sections, they can also view the photograph of the marker.

Mobile Access

As part of this project, Cathedral Cemetery built their own mobile application for iPhones and Android devices. Their staff now has the ability to search their burial records and have GPS navigation to any grave in the cemetery.

“This is an excellent tool for our staff to use while helping families on the field,” said Christian. “We are planning to ultimately publish this app on the Apple and Android markets so that our visitors can download the app to their personal devices and self-navigate the cemetery.”

Part of this plan to publish the app includes creating walking tours of the notable and famous persons buried at the cemetery, including William F. Lamb, the architect of the Empire State Building in New York. Christian noted, “Cathedral Cemetery has memorialized the lives of several nationally notable people, and many locally famous persons. We are looking forward to using this new technology to put those stories in the hands of our visitors.”

Impact

Using mobile technology has enabled Cathedral Cemetery to offer higher levels of customer service than ever before, and has provided them with a platform for easily keeping up with new advancements in technology moving forward. In preparation for launching their mobile app to the public, Cathedral Cemetery is preparing a marketing plan and press release to announce this accomplishment and set themselves apart from their competition.

Christian summarizes, “We are excited to see our families having easy access to information, and are looking forward to connecting with out-of-town relatives who previously did not have access to this information through our website. Our new mobile application is saving our staff time, and we are anticipating that launching it for public use will draw new visitors and help them to build a new connection with our cemetery.”

This article was first published in the Catholic Cemetery Magazine by Nick Timpe, Director of Sales and Marketing for webCemeteries.com. webCemeteries.com offers custom technology solutions to cemeteries and funeral homes, including award winning mobile apps. Nick is a member of the ICCFA Sales and Marketing Committee, the Catholic Cemetery Conference Technology Committee, and serves as a cemetery technology instructor the Catholic Cemetery University.