By Juliana McMillan-Wilhoit

Imagine a serene small-town cemetery, where each headstone, plot, and tree holds countless tales. Flourish & Thrive Labs recently worked with a company specializing in cemetery mapping across the U.S., employing ground-penetrating radar to identify unmarked burials. They, however, lacked a georeferenced system and relied on desktop publishing software for map creation. We helped them transition from this approach to cutting-edge GIS cemetery mapping. Let’s delve into this transformative journey.

The Starting Point: Grasping Cemetery Mapping Challenges

It’s crucial to know what’s amiss before finding a fix. The company used outdated desktop publishing software for cemetery mapping, which was time-consuming and inefficient. While the client was collecting georeferenced points in the field, they were relying on making maps by leveraging a .dxf (CAD file). This process was time-consuming, non-scalable, and limited to each project file. We identified the need for a GIS system that would enable swift and accurate georeferenced data collection and storage. Through leveraging a GIS the organization was able to transcribe the contents of headstones and save that in a master database, allowing for easier updates, sharing, and use by genealogy organizations.

The Turnaround: Crafting the GIS Cemetery Mapping Solution

After understanding the issue, Flourish & Thrive Labs set out to develop a solution. We conducted a needs assessment and charted a course for leveraging GIS software to create efficiencies in their cemetery mapping process. This solution leveraged Esri’s platform, integrating ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online. We held multiple training sessions for mastery in Esri software.

Utilizing the Esri model builder platform and ArcPy, we developed tools that streamlined the transformation of field-collected GPS data into a geodatabase, primed for further processing. This wasn’t just a time-saver; it was a game-changer.

Matching transcription data of headstones to specific points had been a complex challenge. The custom tools we developed deftly created tables, and fields, and attached each image to each point. That meant that the person transcribing was able to know with confidence that the headstone image that they were transcribing was matched with the correct point.

Additionally, we developed a workflow and standard operating procedure to upload and share a digital copy of the data through an interactive web map on the ArcGIS Online platform.

This fusion of technology and innovation resulted in a highly efficient GIS cemetery mapping process. But let’s not forget, at the heart of efficiency lies the often-overlooked human element. This wasn’t just about cutting down processing time; it was about empowering those who work tirelessly in mapping cemeteries to do their jobs with greater ease and precision.


GIS for cemetery mapping tool screenshot

The Outcome: A Leap in Cemetery Mapping

The impact of transitioning to a GIS-based cemetery mapping solution was profound. The company moved from an analog to a digital system, capturing more georeferenced data in an efficient and organized manner. The new system’s speed and accuracy were unparalleled compared to the old process.

This not only optimized their operations but also enriched the narrative they could weave through cemetery mapping. By capturing georeferenced data in a digital map, an immersive storytelling experience was created, shedding light on the community’s history.

Educating the Team: The Key to Sustainability

An essential aspect of this transformation was educating the company’s team. At Flourish & Thrive Labs, we believe that empowering the staff with knowledge and tools is vital for sustainable change. Our comprehensive training ensured that the team was proficient in using the GIS software, which enabled them to implement this transformation independently. This empowerment is a cornerstone of the values that guide our engagements with all our clients.

Flourish & Thrive Labs: The Guiding Beacon in Process Transformation

Our mission at Flourish & Thrive Labs is to be the catalyst in process transformation. This project is a testament to our commitment to harnessing technology for meaningful change. Through our engagement, we not only improved the efficiency of cemetery mapping but also gave the company the tools they needed to bring the rich history of the communities they serve to live.

Our proprietary THRIVE methodology guides clients from the initial engagement to the project’s completion. This engagement wasn’t merely about improving the efficiency of cemetery mapping; we gave the company the tools they needed to breathe life into the rich history of the communities they serve, particularly through the mapping and presentation of unmarked burials.

In Conclusion: The Revitalizing Effect of GIS Cemetery Mapping

The shift from an analog to a GIS cemetery mapping system, especially for unmarked burials, was a challenging yet rewarding endeavor. By collaborating with the client to develop a custom GIS solution, we helped them operate more efficiently and effectively. We were able to help tell the often-overlooked stories of those resting in unmarked graves, truly bringing the community’s history to life.

For those in the cemetery mapping sector or similar industries, embracing GIS technology can be a game-changer. It paves the way for more accurate data collection and presentation, is time-saving, and adds meaningful layers to the information you collect.

In an era where data is the new currency, GIS cemetery mapping equips organizations with a treasure trove of insights. At Flourish & Thrive Labs, we feel privileged to have played a part in this transformative journey. We remain committed to pushing the boundaries in process transformation, empowering organizations to not only thrive in their domain but also to make a meaningful impact in the communities they serve.

Unmarked graves are now no longer just names or numbers. They are stories – of lives, heritage, and the inexorable links that bind us all. Through GIS cemetery mapping, we’re ensuring these stories are told with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Let’s Chat

If you are doing work that you believe could benefit from a digital transformation, we would love to find a time to chat with you. You can shoot us a message or find time to meet with us about your transformation needs. Flourish and Thrive Labs is here to help you on your journey!

Note on graphics:

The graphics presented in this post are demonstration graphics, created for illustrative purposes to provide insight into our work. To protect both our clients and our intellectual property, these images are not actual client deliverables and are illustrative of the types of solutions we can provide.

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