Steps for Cemetery Surveys
With Digital Headstone Pictures and Booklet Publication
Back to Wise County Cemeteries Home Page

   A little over a year ago I did my first cemetery survey using a digital camera and the computer to record my data. Since then LaDarla and I have learned how to streamline our work and get lots of information out on the internet and into the libraries, funeral homes and local historical society. We have over 20,000 headstone photos on CDs and several books published and donated locally.

    We've been asked many times about our procedures and about camera selection. I'm putting this page up to avoid repeating the information.

Materials needed:
1. Digital camera or video cam (There is no one perfect camera but here are some points to consider.)
  a. A relatively inexpensive camera from Wal-Mart is fine but it should take a picture at least as big as 640X480 pixels.
  b. Get one with a "look through" view finder because as you look down and take pictures of headstones on the ground, the sun will shine in those LCD screens and make them difficult to see.
c. You need to be able to take about 250 pictures (this is as long as WE can last) in one trip to the cemetery, so you will have to buy extra picture storage "cards" for some cameras. 
d. If your camera uses AA batteries you can buy those rechargeable batteries and charger for very little. The other type of rechargeable batteries are rather expensive.
    2. Clip board or writing pad.
3. Soft large chalk. (We use the washable sidewalk chalk from Wal-Mart)(Don't use the bright colors in highly visible areas or you may cause alarm from passers by.)

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  4. Computer -- Printer & CD Writer (if you plan on sharing your work)
5. Database program (We use "Excel 97" but have used "Works")
6. Word processor program (We use "Word 97")
7. Picture viewing-editing program (We use a free-from-the-internet program that is great . We send it out on all the CDs of headstone pictures because you can jump from one picture to the next (scroll through) without closing each time.)

When you first go into a new cemetery try to draw a rough map of the layout. You made need to divide it into Sections (use roads or walkways to do that). Then decide which way you are going to go on your Rows and indicate that with arrows on your map. Try not to have the rows be real long because if they are not straight you may loose your place.

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    2. We write down the name on the first headstone in each row so we will know when to start a new row in our data but we no longer write any other names. We now find that we can read headstones and even the little funeral home markers just as well from the pictures as you can in person (most digital cameras do real good close-ups)

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   3. We go up the row taking pictures of both sides of double stones (being sure to get the marriage date if there is one),

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the military footstones and any information that might be on the back (like children's names). We get down and take close-ups if we think something will be hard to read.
4. As we go back down the next row to our note pad or clip board we chalk any headstones that we think may be hard to read. This is that big soft chalk like kids use on sidewalks. It will wash off in the rain (trouble is it didn't rain all summer here in Texas.) This chalk really helps in reading old stones, marblely colored ones or those shiny gray ones.
5. In each cemetery we also take pictures of the way in if it's difficult to find, the gates, historical markers, and scenic pictures of the area.
6. At home I download my pictures into my computer. LaDarla has a Sony camera and hers are on floppy disks ready to go.
7. I pull up my pictures on the computer screen (we both have 17 inch monitors) and then I open my database program on part of the screen. I then type in the information directly from the headstone pictures.

Section Row # Last Name First name Born Date of Death Information





Mamie Louvenia

Sept 13, 1911

Dec 3, 1980

Wed Aug 6, 1932 - Children: Cilmon Jean, James Arvel, Mammie Joyce & Ronald Dale





Aaron Cilmon

Aug 3, 1910

Aug 14, 1990

Wed Aug 6, 1932





Murl Dean

Dec 1, 1924

June 9, 1988

Headstone with Cleople Buford - PVT US Army

    8. We enter - Section Number - Row Number - Headstone Number # (assigned number as the headstones lay in order) - Last Name - First Name - Birth Date - Death Date - Information (this includes "Headstone with", "Daughter of" etc., and military record. If you put the marriage date on both people it shows that they are a couple when this data gets sorted in alphabetical order).
    9. Would be glad to send anyone our template for this information ( It has "TEXT" for a format in the date columns. You run into some problems if the program tries to format your dates and you have different styles of entries like just the year on some.
  10. As we finish entering the data from each picture we number it with the headstone number (#) we have assigned it. In our picture program all you have to do is hit "S", type in the number, and hit enter. The picture is saved to your desktop with it's new number and you can then gather them into folders for that cemetery and section. We save additional pictures (like of military footstones or close-ups) with the same number as the main headstone picture but we add a small letter (like a, b, c, etc.) behind it. That way it saves with the other pictures of that stone.

Sharing the Info:
Now that you have the data information from a cemetery it's important to publish it in two ways. It's really helpful sometimes to know which headstones are together in the cemetery. With this information you may be able to find a married daughter with a different last name or a mother-in-law that is buried with her daughter's family. It's also important to have this location information so people can go to the cemetery and actually find the headstones.
2. We just use "Word" to make drawings of the cemeteries. With it you can put on any color or size of line. You can write in different colors and directions in text boxes with or without lines around them.

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   3. With these "layout maps" we list the headstones in their order by Section, Row and Number (#). I would be glad to send anyone our template for this document in "Word". It has two columns, the pages are numbered and it's ready to be printed on both sides of the paper.
    4. The other important way of listing your information is in alphabetical order. With large cemeteries you would never be able to find people in layout order. In this data table you need to include the headstone number (#) so people can go back to the layout list if they want to see where the headstone is in the cemetery. Again we have templates for these pages that can be easily emailed.
   5. One other document we have is a listing of Last Names, First Names, and the Cemetery that the headstone is in. With this you can combine all the names from all your cemeteries into one alphabetical master index. Ours for Wise County now has over 22,000 names and at three columns it's over 100 pages.
6. In putting things up on the internet you can copy and paste from your data documents and get the same information out there for everyone to read. One added thing that we found to be very useful on web pages is a "searcher" that will search all the text on your web pages. This is real helpful in finding names and it's free to put on there.

    We've taken pictures of some headstones that are broken and on the ground. We are sure that they will be lost in the next year or so. That is why we feel it is important to document these headstones with pictures and to share our pictures in CDs with the libraries, funeral homes and historical society.
Please email any questions or comments.