Many local governments use GIS to locate the homes of people living in their jurisdictions. Now Nampa, Idaho, is also using GIS to locate the final homes of its nonliving residents.

As of November 2006, Nampa's Department of Information Systems was putting the finishing touches on a Web-accessible map database of gravesites in the city's cemetery. The database will let users find information on individuals buried in the public cemetery, view their gravesites on aerial photographs and look at pictures of their headstones.

The main purpose of the Web application is to help genealogists, who traditionally call the city clerk's office for gravesite information and location. The online system will give researchers more details than they could get on the phone and will save time for city employees.

In the past, a genealogist would call the Department of City Clerk with questions about one or more individuals. "We would give them all the information we had, which would generally be how much they paid for the space, when the space was purchased, who the funeral home was and when they were buried," said Diana Lambing, the city clerk. "Of course, they were often wanting more information than that."

Responding to these calls took time away from other tasks. "We could spend up to 20 or 30 minutes, or even longer if we had someone calling with a long list of names," Lambing recalled, adding that sometimes, she and her staff searched paper records for information that wasn't in the database. They also had to get creative with spellings.

Weeks might go by without an inquiry, Lambing said, but if several calls came in the same day, city staff could spend hours helping them.

When a genealogist wanted to physically see a grave, that meant extra work for the cemetery sexton. "He would have to take them out there, pull out his maps and show them where it was," said Rod Collins, GIS manager in the Nampa Engineering Department.

In summer 2005, Lambing asked the information systems director in Medford, Ore., about his city's use of GPS and GIS technology to plot gravesite locations. Medford had created an internal database of locations for staff use.

Nampa was already using GPS in other applications, such as mapping trees in public parks, Lambing said. If the city created a map database of the cemetery, she added, her department could put it out on the Web, and people could do their own genealogy research. "And they could pull up a picture of the headstone and get a feel for what it looks like without having to go out."

Matching Photos, Coordinates

Nampa's Department of Information Systems worked with GeoEngineers, its GIS consulting firm since 2002, to develop the application. Jay Young, a GIS technician for the city, used a Trimble GeoXT GPS receiver, loaded with the cemetery database, and ArcCAD software from ESRI to collect a geographic coordinate for each gravesite.

He also photographed each grave marker, using a digital camera. Then, using GPS-PhotoLink software from GeoSpatial Experts of Thornton, Colo., and a script created by GeoEngineers, he ran a routine to link data about each site to its geographic coordinates and the photo. GeoEngineers then developed the online presentation.

Young collected data on 300 to 500 sites per day, taking 12,000 photos in all. As of November 2006, about 5,000 of them had been processed and added to the database.

GPS-PhotoLink uses the time stamps on the GPS device's track log and the digital photo to match each site to its photo. "As long as you've got the GPS in the right spot when you take the picture, GPS-PhotoLink creates a point file with that picture's name and the position," Collins said, adding that if a full-blown GIS system isn't available, the software can

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer