Sunday, July 19, 2009

Online Cemeteries in a New Light (Part Two)

Cemetery records sites likes Names in Stone are very rare. It's more likely that you will find the records posted in a static text file, such as those found on the USGenWeb archives, or in a database you access via a name search box. Centerville Pioneer Cemetery is an example of the former; Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis provides an example of the latter. Finding people on these sites may not be difficult, but finding burial patterns is. Other than pressing Ctrl-F and searching for all instances of a given lot on the page, there's no easy way to find people buried in the same lot. If you want to search for people in a second lot or for all lots owned by one person, you need to repeat the procedure and record your results over and over.

All researchers tend to grow a little narrow in vision, and we all need a reminder now and then to expand our sights and let our imagination loose. What software programs do you use for your genealogy research? Does the list include a spreadsheet program? If not, you're missing an important tool in your workshop. Spreadsheets are great for quickly sorting data in different ways! Text files such as the Centerville Pioneer Cemetery data are easily transferred to a spreadsheet. Search results such as that found on the Crown Hill Cemetery site may require an extra step, so I'll demonstrate my spreadsheet technique with those results.

One of the surnames I'm researching in the Indianapolis area is Clark(e). That's not as bad as Smith, but it's still a common surname. A search for Clark and Clarke in the Crown Hill Cemetery database yielded 652 results, all sorted by name. Since I was searching for several families in this bunch, I wanted to see who was buried with whom - and I wanted an efficient way to accomplish this.

1. Highlight all the search results and copy them (Ctrl-C). I use Excel, which requires a line break at the end of each record. That line break didn't exist in the copied results - hence, step two was necessary.

2. Paste the results into a word processor, then use find and replace to add the line break.

3. Copy the resulting text and paste into the spreadsheet. In my example, I now had 652 rows containing one column of data. I needed a way to view the sections and lots in unique columns.

4. Spreadsheets have a feature that is called "Text to Columns" in Excel. Using this feature, it doesn't take very long to convert the one column of data to six columns: Surname, Given Name, Middle, Date, Section, and Lot. The data can now be sorted, searched, or filtered in any way I choose. Voila! The related family members pop into view.

There are almost 200,000 people buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, and there is no way to view the entire list from their search box. As I find new surnames in this area, I come back to the search box and repeat this procedure, adding the additional results to my spreadsheet. Unknown relationships are discovered each time.

Of course, when the family members are identified, I contact the cemetery for copies of their lot records. Researchers who limit themselves to tombstone information or the basic cemetery information on an individual may not realize how much information a large cemetery may have filed in section and lot folders. Long ago, I worked for the Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore answering their genealogy queries. Records filed in these folders could include letters, photographs, receipts, and obituaries, as well as the expected burial information. Visit the Historic Congressional Cemetery web site, if you would like a taste of the information that accumulates in a large cemetery's files. Unfortunately, I don't have any family members buried there, but you might be lucky!

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