WeRelate:Cemeteries as Places


(Discussion originally appeared at the Watercooler)

Should a cemetery be considered a "place" for WeRelate's purposes, with its own Place page, etc.?--Kittydoc 08:11, 4 May 2007 (MDT)

I am wondering about that myself. Technically it is a place and it even has people who reside there. I wonder if there could be Cemetery page (as well as a Prison, Asylum, Monastery, University, and other group homes where people lived and died. This would be great for historical and genealogical purposes because we could each add what we know. --Debbie V. 09:18, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
A cemetery is a place in the same way that my house or the neighborhood Taco Bell is a place, though. In my mind, genealogically a place is an administrative or legal subunit. If WeRelate includes cemeteries, universities, prisons, etc., as Places, it exponentially expands the number of places. I would prefer to see details such as cemetery names (or street addresses, for another example) placed in the description namespace next to the place namespace. All the information is still there on your person page and just as searchable, but it doesn't increase the universe of places by potentially 100-fold.--Kittydoc 10:11, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
Actually I was referring to places where groups of people lived or resided for a period of time (not an individual's home or business)
Not all places have civil designations. There were rural settlements that were significant without any connection to an administrative unit of any kind. For instance, many communities in southern Illinois were homes built around a coal mine and RR station. Locally they may have had the nickname "Coal Mine #15" and recieved their mail on an RFD route connected with some town miles away. Churches were built, stores went up etc, all with no adminstration.
I just took a look at the 1900 U.S. Census form and it has a place at the top to enter the civil district, and the to the right of it is a field for "Name of Institution". Here's a link on Ancestry that illustrates this Southern Illinois Hospital for the Insane It is still a hospital, but I believe it is now a Veteran's Home. It's a large group of buildings, like a college campus. --Debbie V. 11:24, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
I understand your distinction between a private home and a building or group of buildings that may have housed many people, but to me, that still doesn't define a place. Buildings and cemeteries come and go, but the land itself does not change much over time. The definition of "place" is certainly a point on which reasonable people differ, but I wonder whether, for the sake of uniformity and to keep the list of places manageable, there should be a policy or recommendation about this for WeRelate.--Kittydoc 11:56, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
Mary, I do understand the need to define a place. It's possible that the "places" I am referring to might be recorded on some other category of page.
However, I do believe that some of these places deserve the Place ranking. I am not referring to a building, I am referring to a place. A plot of land. A place were multiple families or people live. A place where there may be one or many buildings. A communual living place, very much like a town.
You have to admit it does seem logical that 30 pages of Census records devoted to an Institution (including doctors, staff, patients) would define a Place. This institution has a history, people who founded it, etc. There are valuble genealogical facts here, including places of birth and death.--Debbie V. 12:35, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
I think the place index should contain places that appear in genealogical records, so that someone seeing a place in a record can come to WeRelate and learn more about it, or so that someone recording an event on WeRelate can have that event linked to a place page. It seems fairly common to list a cemetery as the place of a burial event, so I think we need to include cemeteries. In fact several people have requested this and it's on my todo list. I think hospitals, churches, and insane asylums could be considered because I've seen them listed for birth, christening, and census events. But while I have access to a fairly comprehensive list of cemeteries (for the US anyway), I don't have access to a comprehensive list of hospitals, churches, and insane asylums, so if those were added they would have to be added by hand. I don't think that adding cemeteries and other places that appear in genealogical records will expand the place index too much, and it will be useful to some people. Maybe someone will even start attaching headstone images to place pages for cemeteries - that would be cool.
Place indexes on other websites also include geographic features such as rivers, mountains, lakes, etc. I don't think we should generally include these in our place index. I know they are sometimes useful for genealogical research, but they don't often show up in records and you can learn about geographic features using these other websites. This is my opinion, but I'm open to suggestions.--Dallan 13:15, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
Wow after writing the paragraph above I just came across this cemetery page while monitoring recent changes. Click on the "What Links Here" link at the bottom of the page and you'll see a list of about 20 headstone images in this cemetery. I think this is really cool! I've got to figure out how to get thumbnails of the images showing up automatically on the place page when you view it.--Dallan 13:55, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
Dang, what a great picture. Talk about opening Pandora's Box. It's the lure of wiki - one thing leading to another. The connections between us is what genealogy is all about.
I was going to ask at some time about photos on place pages. For now, I've just put one inside the text but I had to thumbnail it myself. [Webb's Prairie] --Debbie V. 14:41, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
I created a few cemetery pages yesterday--including the East View page--after some internal debate. For one thing, there already were a few cemetery pages on the site, so I figured I wasn't totally redefining "general practice." Also, I wanted to be able to collect a set of all my relatives buried in a single cemetery, and there seemed no way to do that the way I was originally entering the info (just city/county/state/country for burial location, with the cemetery name in the description as Kittydoc mentioned); I couldn't figure out how I'd collect a list of my Rome, Georgia, kin buried in East View vs. the ones buried in Oak Knoll. (I'll need the list for my next visit to Rome--when I need to find and photograph the headstones of more relatives buried in East View.) Now I can open the Place:East View page and use "What links here" to see everyone interred there and linked to the page. (And if someone else links relatives to that Place page, I'll know there's another researcher out there hunting in the same cemetery. We might be able to help each other out.)
I also wanted to document the cemetery locations. East View and Oak Knoll are modern cemeteries still in use--but neither has a Web page of its own, and finding their locations even through MapQuest can be difficult. And I have kin buried in even more obscure cemeteries. I've hunted and tracked down graves (and am still looking for others), and I'd like to document that information for my relatives. I'm not tempted to make place pages for individual street addresses of ancestors' homes; in most cases, the old homes are no longer there, so there's nothing to see at those addresses. But cemeteries are a different case: the ancestors are still there, and there is something to see. So I think a cemetery page that documents the location of the cemetery (you'll note I included latitude/longitude and Google Map links) could be useful.
The WeRelate page 101 Ways to use WeRelate.org mentions using this site for cemetery transcription projects. I actually have surveyed one tiny cemetery in south Georgia and would like to ensure that the records--transcriptions and photographs--are accessible to other researchers. I haven't yet figured out how I'll do that on WeRelate, but I strongly suspect there'll have to be a place page involved in order to get all the information linked to one location. (Many of the people buried there were related to each other; but not all were, so there's no way to link the people through a family tree.) I've wondered how to get the photos to show up on the page, and I've thought I'd probably be stuck with embedding the photos in the text box or at least embedding a link to the photo page. I'll have to give it some thought, and I'd love suggestions.--KF-in-Georgia 19:18, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
P.S. Dallan, you can see thumbnails of the linked images if you click the link that says: "Category: East View Cemetery, Rome, Floyd, Georgia, United States" rather than the "What links here" link...I just found that out by accident.--KF-in-Georgia 22:11, 4 May 2007 (MDT)
I realize that I'm fighting a losing battle here, although my genealogy librarian colleagues at the Allen County Public Library agree with me that treating cemeteries, hospitals, etc., as "places" is a slippery slope, in part because there is no comprehensive database available that includes all of the small family cemeteries that dot every county in America (and beyond). There may be 50-100 such cemeteries or more in an average county that are not on any official list or publication. Also, these small private cemeteries have even more potential names and name changes than larger or better established church-related or public cemeteries. It's not that this information isn't important, because clearly, it is. However, my preference would be to consider cemeteries as Sources or Articles rather than Places, especially since they may have dozens or hundreds of valuable photographs of headstones on their pages.--Kittydoc 07:29, 5 May 2007 (MDT)
Whether we call them Places or Sources or Articles, there are going to be a lot of cemeteries, some with multiple names, and no one has a list of them all. Whichever database contains them will be huge and complicated. So why exactly is it worse for us to treat cemeteries as Places than something else? There's a missing premise in this argument and I don't know enough about librarianship to fill it in on my own. (I was at Allen County all day today, but it didn't make me a librarian any more than sleeping in my garage made me a car.) --Hh219 18:52, 5 May 2007 (MDT)

I have created a couple of cemetery pages and categorized them as places only because I was not sure where else to put them. I wanted someone looking at the person pages to be able to access the cemetery page just as easily as they could the city or town. Now, having said that, what about a cemetery where the town or city isn't known? Because place names involve a naming standard, i.e., city, state, county, country, how would a cemetery name be handled where the exact location isn't known? --Ronni 23:01, 5 May 2007 (MDT)

I have some cemeteries that aren't in any city (outside any city limits). For those, I know the county, and I'll list them as Cemetery, County, State, Country.--KF-in-Georgia 17:38, 6 May 2007 (MDT)

It seems like cemeteries can be thought of as places where a burial event occurred, or repositories for headstone sources. I think Repository needs to be added as a new namespace (type of page) - see WeRelate talk:Sources - and Repositories could conceivably have latitude and longitude associated with them like Places do.

Of the GEDCOM files that have been uploaded, about half of them have at least one cemetery listed as an event place. So it seems that a lot of people currently think of cemeteries as places. I really don't want to ask people to change how they record events. I checked GNIS (which is the standard source for cemetery locations in the US), and they list roughly 127,000 cemeteries. This is more than the number of inhabited places they list in the US, but not significantly more. I imagine this makes sense, since every inhabited place has at least one major cemetery. And it seems plausible that there are 10 times as many smaller cemeteries that aren't included in GNIS. If we get to the point of having so many cemeteries in the index that it makes it difficult to find other types of places, we will need to move the cemeteries to a new "Cemetery" namespace (type of page). Until then it doesn't seem like it will hurt to add cemeteries as Place pages with a type of "Cemetery".

A couple of additional thoughts: I agree that if a cemetery lies outside the boundaries of a city, or you don't know the name of the city, then go ahead and put it in the county. And although the picture thumbnails show up on the category page (thank you for pointing that out!), I'd still like to see them at the bottom of the place page. I love pictures, and seeing pictures of any place, cemetery or political, at the bottom of the place page would be interesting I think.

--Dallan 10:37, 8 May 2007 (MDT)

I searched for a sample of five cemeteries (three current medium/large cemeteries, and two smaller community or family cemeteries which are only marginally active, but not entirely inactive) in two states, but only one appeared in the GNIS online database. I did not try to select tricky ones (except for the one small family cemetery). I was very surprised that none of the three medium-large active cemeteries were included in this database. I would not call a 20% return rate very positive. Even if WeRelate uses the entire GNIS database, it leaves an enormous number of cemeteries unaccounted for. 127,000 entries sounds like a large number, except that it's still nowhere close to the actual number of cemeteries in the United States. I am also not sure that GNIS records any cemeteries that are inactive; I searched for this information on their web site, but did not readily find an answer.

Since even the GNIS database of American cemeteries is very incomplete, the overwhelming majority of these entries would have to be created by hand, which introduces the possibility of a great amount of human error. If one of the purposes of WeRelate is to enable users to quickly and easily connect with others searching the same ancestors, erroneous or incomplete place information will only impede that goal.

I would rather see cemeteries as a separate namespace entirely, so that these pages could be built without creating many incorrect or incomplete new place pages. Again, I think cemetery information is very important and should certainly be recorded, but I do not think the Place page is the best location for that information here. I know I am in the minority, but it's my duty to point out the potential pitfalls of treating cemeteries as just another layer of "Place" in the same namespace.--Kittydoc 22:02, 8 May 2007 (MDT)

If someone is aware of a more comprehensive list of cemeteries than GNIS, please let me know. I think even 127,000 cemeteries is better than where we are now. The entire place database is just a small fraction of what it will ultimately be: I believe we have far less than half of even the inhabited places of the world once you include historical places. Let's see how it goes adding cemeteries in the Place namespace. If the Place namespace gets overwhelmed by cemeteries, we can move them at that point to their own namespace, which could be done automatically so it wouldn't be much trouble.--Dallan 14:00, 10 May 2007 (MDT)
I agree with Kittydoc that having cemeteries on the Place pages potentially opens a can of worms. If you consider cemeteries as just another layer under Place, then why not hospitals or universities? The entities on the Place pages now can be described as either having or potentially having a governmental/administrative unit of some sort. Even the "non-official" towns - like those Debbie described - could potentially have a governmental unit. That seems to be a good line of demarkation to determine whether something is or is not a Place. "Coal Mine 15" could potentially be a town or village, but you're not going to have Mount Carmel Hospital Village or Green Lawn Cemetery Village.
Am I correct that when someone imports a GEDCOM or enters data directly into the site, that if a place they have is not in the Place namespace, there is not a page automatically generated for it? If that is indeed the case, then there are going to be an inordinate number of links to non-existant Place pages. The 127,000 cemeteries in the GNIS database is a mere drop in the bucket. Having so many bad links to non-existant Place pages will only hinder the user's experience.
Another thing to consider about having cemeteries as a layer in the Place - where do you place the cemetery? Is it Lindenwood Cemetery, Fort Wayne, Allen County, Indiana, United States or just Lindenwood Cemetery, Allen County, Indiana, United States? Even cemeteries outside of a city pose this problem. Is it Olivet Cemetery, Hopewell Township, Perry County, Ohio, United States or just Olivet Cemetery, Perry County, Ohio, United States?
Would there be a way to capture the info in the "Buried" field in the GEDCOM so that it would generate a page for the cemetery? You wouldn't have to change the way people enter their data (one of Dallan's earlier concerns) and you wouldn't have a ton of non-existant links by leaving it as a Place. --Ajcrow 14:43, 10 May 2007 (MDT)
You are correct in that we don't create pages for places just because they appear in someone's GEDCOM. In general I think it's a bad idea to generate a new page for a place in someone's GEDCOM that we can't find in the index (whether it's a cemetery or not), because I've seen too many places that contain extra words (like cause of death) or abbreviations or missing hierarchical levels that would make them unusable as titles for new place pages.
As to whether to put the cemetery under the town or county, it seems like it would depend upon whether the cemetery was located inside the town's boundaries. For cemeteries located within a township boundary, we would need to make a policy decision as to whether to include the township. This question of whether to put cemeteries under towns, townships, or counties needs to be answered regardless of whether cemeteries are put in the place namespace or given their own namespace. Don't all of the issues raised about cemeteries: their quantity, their frequent name changes, the lack of a comprehensive list, exist regardless of whether cemeteries are in their own namespace?
Perhaps I don't understand something. People are uploading GEDCOM's with cemeteries in the place field for burial events already. We already have thousands of bad links to non-existent cemetery pages. It seems that by adding cemeteries as places we will be decreasing the number of bad links, not increasing them. How would it increase the number of bad links?
An alternative solution is to put the cemeteries under a different namespace, but this poses additional complexity: When the user fills out a place field, are they entering a place or a cemetery? Which drop-down list should we show? Should we try to show a combined drop-down list (in which case how much have we gained by separating them into separate namespaces), or do we require the user to check a box before starting to enter the place indicating whether they're entering a cemetery or a place? What about GEDCOM's -- we'd need to determine during the upload whether the place in the GEDCOM was a place or a cemetery. Can we always rely upon the presence of the word "cemetery" in a GEDCOM place to signal that it is a cemetery? What about cemeteries in non-english-speaking countries - wouldn't we need to have a list of all the words used for cemetery in multiple languages so that we could tell whether a place in a GEDCOM was a cemetery or not? And what about farms in Norway? They're pretty important for genealogical research -- do we give them their own namespace too?
I believe all of these questions could be answered, but it does introduce more complexity into the system. I don't think it's necessary to introduce the additional complexity unless it turns out to be needed.--Dallan 09:50, 11 May 2007 (MDT)
I agree that Place pages shouldn't automatically be created when someone enters a GEDCOM; I was just making sure that I was understanding that correctly. But the fact that there are already "thousands of bad links to non-existant cemetery pages" does not mean that those must be put on Place pages.
We're talking about something that is going to exist in one specific field: Buried. I don't think you need to ask the user if they are entering a cemetery or a place. Cemeteries are going to exist in only one field. That one particular field would have the cemetery drop-down; everything else would have the place drop-down. Another drawback to having cemeteries as Places -- how much longer the place list would become. According to Ohio Cemeteries by the Ohio Genealogical Society, there are 140 cemeteries in Perry County, Ohio. Wouldn't that make the place list on the Perry County page exceedingly long?
Problem is, sometimes the Buried field has a cemetery and sometimes it has a town (or county, state, country, etc.). We can't depend upon Buried place always being a cemetery. 140 contained places isn't all that long. We're going to have to show the list of cemeteries in Perry County, Ohio somewhere, and the Perry County, Ohio place page seems as good a page as any. (Unless of course we put cemeteries under towns/townships, then the cemeteries would be listed on each individual town/township page.)--Dallan 10:59, 14 May 2007 (MDT)
I agree with you 100% that regardless of where cemeteries end up - as Places or as their own namespace - there must be a standardized nomenclature. However, I don't think it is two separate questions "..it seems like it would depend upon whether the cemetery was located inside the town's boundaries. For cemeteries located within a township boundary, we would need to make a policy decision as to whether to include the township." Having a mix of some cemeteries listed as "cemetery,town,county,state" with others as "cemetery,county,state" isn't going to help people finding pages they are looking for. The question is whether there needs to be a level between the cemetery and the county. Going back to my earlier examples, if a cemetery in a town is "Lindenwood Cemetery, Fort Wayne, Allen, Indiana," then a cemetery outside of a town (ie, in a township) should be "Olivet Cemetery, Hopewell Township, Perry, Ohio" (rather than "Olivet Cemetery, Perry, Ohio.") --Ajcrow 11:07, 11 May 2007 (MDT)
I agree with Amy that one of the problematic issues of adding cemeteries as places is determining where they fit in the place hierarchy. Not everyone knows, or even cares, about the name of a township, but some genealogists care very much about including townships in a place. WeRelate does not have complete listings for townships, and the way in which townships appear is not completely consistent (in part because different users have different styles of presenting the same information). Also, sometimes townships are listed just by their name, and other times with the designation "(township)" after the name if it distinguishes the broader township from a town/city by the same name within that township. This distinction makes sense if a user is aware of the need for clarity, but what if they don't? When a user manually enters this information on a Place page, it puts a large burden on him or her to know or search for broader information about that township than they may choose to investigate. Adding cemeteries as places only further confounds attempts at standardization or uniformity.--Kittydoc 12:29, 11 May 2007 (MDT)
I'm not against putting cemeteries inside townships when the township is known. When someone enters "Olivet Cemetery, Perry, Ohio", if the place is listed as "Olivet Cemetery, Hopewell Township, Perry, Ohio, United States", then it will be listed in the drop-down and/or automatically matched when the page is saved. (It's ok to leave out place levels - if the levels entered uniquely identify a place, then the place is automatically matched when the page is saved. We do need some more robust matching algorithms though to better handle cases when things like (township) are left out.) Also, I don't think it's a requirement for all place links to match place pages. If they don't match, then the person/family pages don't get put into all the right categories and those events don't show up on a map, but that isn't all that bad.--Dallan 10:59, 14 May 2007 (MDT)

Cemetery transcriptions

A comment in the section above about uploading transcriptions and photographs of tombstones got me to thinking: It's difficult to manage a lot of images for a single subject (e.g., a cemetery) by uploading each picture one at a time - not something I would want to do a lot of pictures. A possible alternative would be to put them all (pictures and transcriptions) into a single PDF file and upload that. The PDF file could even be indexed so that people searching on the words in the transcriptions could find the file. If anyone is interested in doing this, I can modify the software to allow PDF files to be uploaded and index them. One way to create PDF files is with OpenOffice, which is a free alternative to MS Office. OpenOffice has an "Export as PDF" option.--Dallan 11:43, 8 May 2007 (MDT)

Allowing PDF files to be uploaded and having werelate index them would be very useful. I've found that uploading images gets old really fast after a couple of images. --Jgoldsti 13:41, 8 May 2007 (MDT)

Picking this thread up after nearly two years.... Some sites, like Facebook or Google's Picasa Web Albums, deploy a Flash or Java uploader tool that lets you select many files and upload them all at once. Now that I think about it, the Wordpress blog software is using such a Flash uploader. Most likely it is open source, and Wordpress is written in PHP, maybe making this a perfect candidate to be plugged into MediaWiki. --JoshHansen 17:32, 24 February 2009 (EST)

Directed to and read this thread after the similar discussion in the Watercooler page and feel compelled to respond. After two years, I agree with Dallan's view that adding cemeteries as Placenames is still not really a problem here, but can understand that it may be at some point. Actively incorporating the "Cemetery Portal" page might help in that regard. And while the Place category might become expanded with the addition of a massive number of cemeteries, doing a WeRelate search on a particular site should be hindered only slightly. I think placing cemeteries under the Source or Repository categories would further complicate matters. (Do a WR search on "St. Joseph" and you'll see what I mean.)

Dallan, please DO add capability for adding PDF images. That was one of my first suggestions upon using WeRelate, and it would save me from having to reimage and reformat my PDF files into JPG or GIF images. Thanks. -- BobC 11:04, 24 March 2009 (EDT)