Mapping cemetery proves to be huge, well, undertaking
By ANDREW MCGINN
George Johnson was 23 when he drowned in eastern South Dakota on July 24, 1902.
Jacob Kinsman was in his 40s when he died in Council Bluffs at a “hospital for the insane” on Jan. 23, 1896, a “good Christian boy, always living and acting the Golden Rule,” his obituary read.
Both men were buried in the Jefferson Cemetery, but good luck finding them.
And, no, that doesn’t mean they’re out walking around, this being Halloween and all.
Neither man’s grave is marked with a stone.
A year-long effort by the city of Jefferson to create a web-based cemetery mapping system should soon relieve guests of the scariest part about visiting the boneyard: Not knowing where someone is buried.
“Something like this will be very helpful,” said City Councilman Harry Ahrenholtz, who sits on the city cemetery committee.
It was a year ago that the city council approved a five-year contract with a Carroll-based business, Grave Discover Software, to create a web-based management system for both the municipal and Catholic cemeteries.
Now if only people would stop dying for a while.
The effort has required Vicky Lautner, Jefferson park and recreation director, to manually input the individual burial information of more than 7,500 cemetery residents — new ones arrive almost daily — using a combination of sources, including Greene County Genealogical Society records up to 2004 and the cemetery record books at City Hall.
“If you’ve ever seen the books at City Hall, there are probably four or five of them, each six or seven inches thick,” Lautner said.
Beginning with a Mr. Herman Amey in Lot 15, Block 2, the Jefferson Cemetery has been in use since March of 1858.
The old section alone of the Jefferson Cemetery is comprised of 16 blocks of roughly 7,591 spaces; many of them occupied.
Lautner is putting the call out for volunteers to assist with data entry.
The work can be surprisingly insightful — or downright depressing — depending on how well-versed you are in history.
“A lot of children,” Lautner said. “A lot of infants. That really struck me.”
There are also those who gave their lives in wars past and present.
Walter Bedell died in the Civil War on July 11, 1863, while in Memphis. He was 29.
The city is doing its own data entry on the Grave Discover program to cut costs, Lautner said.
Beyond an initial setup cost of $1,200, the city will pay $100 per month to host and back up the data.
Once complete, it will be linked to the city of Jefferson website, allowing users to map burial sites in either cemetery, and will be searchable by names, dates and even military service.
Prospective cemetery residents will be able to see available lots.
The site will be mobile-friendly.
And, yes, it’s ironic that so much information about the dead will be stored in the Cloud.
Ahrenholtz admittedly thought the site would be complete in six months, but it could be another six months before it goes live.
Then again, it’s not like the cemetery residents are going anywhere.
“They will wait for us,” he said. “But I know a lot of people would like to have it up and running.”