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Historic Oakland Foundation Launches New Burial Records Database and Interactive Map

The importance of well-organized, accessible records can’t be overstated, especially at a place like a cemetery. Historically, there have been a variety of record keeping methods, resulting in several different physical resources that had to be consulted when an interested party needed burial information. This was an inefficient process, and the paper records—some nearly 175 years old—had become too fragile to be handled.

At Oakland, burial records inform so much of the work we do every day to care for and share Oakland with the public. They tell our preservation team where persons are interred in a lot, indicate whether or not there are burial markers and what type they are (especially important when observation indicates that there are no stones where stones are supposed to be!), and of course, provide time stamps for important events and installations on lots. Our programming team and volunteer researchers rely heavily on burial records as they create tours and experiences for visitors, and descendants of Oakland residents must have all the information about their loved ones’ burials available when they need it.

At Oakland, burial records inform so much of the work we do every day to care for and share Oakland with the public.

Several years ago, Historic Oakland Foundation began the process of pulling together all the burial records into a geodatabase—a map-based data tool to store our records with the goal of making the search and record entry process easy, efficient, permanent, and accessible.

The backbone of the records exists in ArcGIS, a software commonly used for geodatabases. To make burial searching accessible to anyone with an internet connection, we worked with consultants Blue Raster to develop a custom map interface that draws on the database when queried.

Burial records are a key function of the Oakland Cemetery Interactive Viewer map, offering immediate access to the records that have been digitized thus far. There are several ways to search burial records in the tool. By clicking on the Burial Records tab, two search bars appear: Mapped Burials and Unlocated Burials. Mapped Burials have a documented lot location at Oakland. Unlocated Burials may be individuals moved to other cemeteries or those with incomplete records that cannot be mapped. To find the burial location and record, enter the name of an individual and it locates the individual on the map with a black dot. Clicking on the black dot pulls up the burial record and section information.

Tools to Enhance Visitor Experience
In addition to making burial records easily accessible, the map offers tools to enhance any visit to Oakland:

  • Two search buttons allow quick access to famous burials and points of interest. Famous Burials highlights eleven notable residents with a star. Clicking on the name or the star pulls up two pop-up boxes, one with the individual’s burial record and a second pop-up that describes the section they are buried in.
  • The Points of Interest section highlights visitor amenities such as buildings, restrooms, and gates as well as points unique to Oakland like the Out in the Rain fountain
  • Additionally, by clicking on the Map Layers and Legend on the top right, visitors can access even more information and select various layers or views.
  • Other tabs link to Oakland Cemetery website or offer opportunities to leave feedback about the cemetery.

The Oakland Cemetery Interactive Viewer map would not be possible without the dozens of dedicated volunteers who have spent hundreds of hours digitizing 150 years’ worth of Oakland’s written burial records. The sheer volume and complexity of Oakland’s burial records requires volunteers to be eagle-eyed in their transcription and additional research to ensure that each record is as complete and accurate as it can be with the information we have available. In addition to reviewing the written records, in many cases data verification required ground-truthing, or going to the physical burial sites and verifying or correcting data errors. Our volunteers definitely logged some miles working on this task.  Historic Oakland Foundation and Oakland Cemetery are grateful for the time, energy, and hard work of our GIS database volunteers who worked to make this tool useful for all. We specifically want to acknowledge Jeff Van Natta, who has been involved in this project from the outset and did a fantastic job not only working with our staff and consultants but organizing and leading the volunteers in this difficult task.

GIS consultants Blue Raster, and in particular Chris Gabris, Jen Kern, and Andrew Patterson, have been outstanding partners in this project. What the public sees in the Burial Search application is the tip of the iceberg that represents the gargantuan effort expended by the Blue Raster team. The lion’s share of work over the last few years has been collecting, building, and correcting the datasets for both burial and plant records. The search tool represents but one of many possible ways Oakland can utilize the data in ways that are beneficial to the public. We are so grateful to Blue Raster for their leadership, vision, and patience with us as we learned this new language.

This Oakland Cemetery Interactive Cemetery Viewer map is made possible by the Sara Giles Moore Foundation and the Antinori Foundation, who generously funded this extensive and complex project. Historic Oakland Foundation is grateful for their support of this important tool that will serve descendants and visitors for years to come.

We hope you take the opportunity to explore Oakland Cemetery through this tool from your home or the next time you are onsite.

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