Every city has a cemetery, and every cemetery some kind of system to track plot sales, ownership and tenants. Until recently, the city of Butler, Indiana, tracked cemetery plot sales and management through old books and hand-drawn maps, which dated back to when the Butler Cemetery was originally platted in the late nineteenth century.

As the cemetery grew, the paperwork grew. Each new section required new books, and each grave plot required two cards. One card identified the plot by number. The second card, created when a plot was sold or used for burial, identified the plot by the owner or tenant name.

The paper system left too much room for human error. More than once the same plot was accidentally sold to more than one person. In one instance, a single plot was sold to two different families who ended up needing it at the same time. The city decided it was time to act, and they began looking for a way to visualize which plots were available for sale.

Other Butler city departments have been using Cityworks for asset management since 2005, and Jim Otis, the city’s GIS/IT coordinator, suggested a Cityworks solution for selling cemetery plots. Cityworks allowed the cemetery to create work orders against each plot, prompting the team to complete custom fields tracking the owner, tenant and other attributes. From there, Jim and GIS Intern, Hannah Dodd created symbology based on those attributes to make it easy to see whether any given plot is available for sale.

The cemetery was digitized much the same way a parcel fabric is digitized, using the original plats. Jim and Hannah then verified the locations on the digitized maps using Trimble’s R2 GPS unit, which is corrected to a three-inch accuracy within the field. It took a lot of coordination between different departments to develop the right strategy. They determined which work order templates would be necessary, what information—if any—needed to be updated in the attribute fields and what the symbology would be so the end product could be used for both plot sales and cemetery maintenance.

The city’s street superintendent, Eric Dohner, suggested it would be helpful to know who is buried on either side of a plot when digging a grave or marking a footer. The GIS team created an annotation for each grave, which appears near the headstone location. Zooming in allows staff to see the exact names on each headstone. The team also created custom fields for each work order template and decided which ones needed to update the geodatabase. For the cemetery plot sale template, they configured a print template that serves as a sales receipt.

As a result of all of this GIS work, Butler was able to take their digitization one step further. The city created a web application that allows funeral homes and the general public to access cemetery information online. Internal users can find a grave by opening the GIS search in Cityworks and searching by the owner or tenant’s first or last name, date of burial and funeral home. Meanwhile, the public can access the web app on the city website and search by any part of the owner or tenant name—or zoom in to select a specific grave. 

By adding the cemetery to their GIS, the city of Butler leveraged Cityworks to eliminate redundant plot sales and streamline the record keeping process. Not only does the new system prevent customer crisis during a time of grief—it also enables online access to a unique aspect of the city’s historical record.

Contributed by Jim Otis, GIS/IT coordinator, City of Butler, Indiana


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