Mapping Brookside Cemetery Part 2

Last week, I introduced you to the Brookside Cemetery project my son Shawn is working on.

The process

Corner of Brookside Cemetery near Baptist Church showing the red flags. Photo by Ron Patch.

Shawn laid out the rows of graves with red flags. Each flag had a number assigned beginning with number one. Volunteers worked in teams of two. One team member used a smart phone with a special app. The other team member carried a notebook to record grave data. This volunteer also carried a mirror.

Starting with flag number one, the team member with the smart phone recorded the following: type of stone, marble, slate or granite and then photographed each gravestone. The second volunteer recorded the name on the grave and birth and death dates and direction the inscription faced; east or west. Also recorded were any motifs on the headstone; willow tree, urn or other designs.

Next the team moved to grave number two and repeated this process. In the four days volunteers worked, about one thousand graves were recorded.

Next Shawn with a high tech GPS device recorded the graves location. Most everyone today is aware of GPS. The commercial GPS most have today is accurate within a couple feet. Shawn’s version is accurate to within less than an inch and cost $25,000.

His GPS device has a spirt level on the control box. Shawn would position his GPS device at the center of each gravestone. Checking his control box and when level he would click ‘enter’ and the grave was recorded. This was repeated over 1,300 times to mark location of gravestones.

Shawn Patch using GPS. Photo by Ron Patch.

We concentrated on the oldest section of Brookside Cemetery. In this section there are over 1,300 gravestones. The volunteers managed to record about 1,000 graves. This leaves 300 plus yet to do along with the newer section. Shawn will return next year to finish the project.

  The final results

Shawn using a Google aerial map will be able to place all of the graves in their exact location. He has created a map of what we did last week. It’s amazing how accurate his map is. Where there are locations without graves or where a row of graves suddenly end, you see it exactly as it is.

The smart phones we used are linked to the GPS device. All information will be uploaded to the Cloud. Shawn then will create a website for Brookside Cemetery. When someone visits this site they will see the GPS map. What you see will be hundreds of dots. If you click on a dot the photo of the grave will pop up as will the person’s name, date of death, etc.

To make the site user-friendly there are two possible ways to locate a grave. One way is with a spread sheet at the website with all of the names listed alphabetically. You find the name you are looking for and beside it will be a number. Click that number on the map and you will see a photo of the gravestone and the information we recorded.

Another possible way is to create a search bar where you type in the name you are searching for. Then the gravestone photo would come up along with the person’s name etc. Shawn tells me this presents challenges, but might be possible.

Year round, but especially in the summer, the historical society gets dozens of requests from across the country from people doing their genealogy. These people often visit Chester and meet with historical society members. We do our best to escort them to their family gravestones.

Using a mirror to reflect sunlight on the gravestone. You can see how helpful this technique is. Photo by Ron Patch.

The good news is when this project is completed people will be able to look it up online. With aid of the map they’ll be able to go directly to the gravestones they want. In the past visitors have wandered for a couple hours looking for their family. Not any longer.

Many of these old gravestones were difficult to read; some were totally illegible. A neat trick we had included a mirror. Standing off to the side of the gravestone we caught the sun with a mirror. Then tilting the mirror we could reflect the sun onto the gravestone. I include a photo of this so you can see how affective it is.

Ken Barrett, who was sexton for many years, knew where there were a couple locations missing gravestones. In one instance a tree fell over years ago and smashed a headstone into many pieces. Ken knew the name on the grave and marked its place. When Shawn came along with his GPS, he recorded this missing grave and the person’s name. What would have been lost forever is now preserved.


  This week’s old saying. “He doesn’t know if he’s afoot or horseback.”

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