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GIS Tools for the Cultural Resource Management of Cemeteries

James Stein
National Park Service
Cultural Resources GIS

Too often, because of the historic nature of cemeteries, knowledge of burials and conservation is documented in paper forms and the experiences of individual caretakers. Taking these historic texts and maps and combining them with GPS surveys and digital photography into a GIS allows for better management and long term planning.

Reasons for mapping cemeteries include cultural resource conservation, maintenance of markers and monuments, facilities and ground management, records management, interment planning and locating existing interments.

The Historic American Landscape Survey/Cultural Resources GIS (HALS/CRGIS), in cooperation with the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration, has been developing GIS tools to use in the documentation and management of national cemeteries. Fourteen of these cemeteries are adjacent to, and managed by, NPS units. In the past we have developed locator applications for Poplar Grove National Cemetery, located at the Petersburg National Military Park, and Chalmette Cemetery, located at the Chalmette National Military Park.

The cemeteries were mapped using contemporary and historic maps, aerial photographs and global positioning system (GPS) units.  Database information and photos of the grave markers were associated with the GIS data. Ancillary data such as historic and contemporary photos and documents were combined into Adobe Acrobat documents and hyperlinked to the appropriate point in the GIS. Additionally a VBA application was developed to provide a simplified search of the existing interments with the results displayed along with a photograph of the grave marker and the location of the grave highlighted on the map.

Each cemetery is different with different mapping needs; to preserve the unique historic nature of cemeteries we must be willing to address the needs of each individual landscape and adapt the application to meet these needs.

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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119