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Record keeping challenges for small cemeteries


All cemeteries are required to ensure their historic and current records are maintained, managed and protected. These records provide a unique insight into the communities, culture and history around a cemetery.

Primarily cemeteries are required by regulation to maintain records related to their grounds; be they death records, location, maintenance, plots available, etc. But apart from regulatory compliance record keeping plays a vital role in our history and our future.

Recently NSW legislation has been updated to tighten regulation on the management of cemetery records, and fines of up to $2,000 can apply for non-compliance. So how is your cemetery managing records, are you meeting all regulatory compliance? Can you easily search and locate records? Do you have a disaster plan in place? Are your records backed up?

Why is record keeping so important so important for cemeteries?

Cemeteries are full of history, they offer a unique insight into the community, its history and identity. The monuments left behind record the deceased and often include family inscriptions, dates of birth and death and can even indicate the wealth of the family. Older gravestones are also a tribute to the stone makers at a time when all work was done by hand and original. Dwellings and gardens within the grounds often show the architectural style of the time.

The location of cemeteries follows the path of European settlement and the establishment and growth of communities. Graves and monuments provide demographical data about the population: gender, number of children, religion and even ethnicity. They can even note if there was a significant contribution to the community. It is not unusual for cemeteries to have monuments for local disasters like fire, mining, shipwrecks or war.

For a hundred years or more records of varying degrees have been manually kept including information on:

  • Deceased persons
  • Interment details
  • Cremation detail
  • Holder of rights
  • Rights transfers
  • Next of kin
  • Exhumations

Are your records safe?

As previously mentioned cemeteries are an important historical and social record of the community, the records kept by cemeteries offer detailed essential information above and beyond what can be found in the cemetery. Are your cemetery records safe and secure, do you have copies of all records in a secondary location offsite should anything happen to the originals? Have the records been transcribed and are they available online?

For many smaller cemeteries retaining such records is challenging as it is predominantly done through manual books or files and in some instances through spreadsheets and scanned documents onto a hard drive. The information is generally disparate and incomplete and difficult to find when needed.

To ensure your records are safe you should; have original particularly historically significant records archived safely, all records should have been electronically transcribed and where practical scanned and copied. All records (copies and scans) should then be catalogued so they can be indexed for searching. Data should be regularly backed-up, back-ups should be checked to ensure they are working, and they should be kept off-site so if your office is fire or flood damaged your records will still be available.

Meeting the expectation

The booming interest in genealogy is seeing people worldwide want to track down their ancestors and access deceased records. For the younger generations, there is an expectation that this information is available online, anytime and from anywhere. Are you currently able to easily access and search your records?

Managing and maintaining your historical records and publishing deceased search online can help promote your cemetery and increase and educate your audience. This could lead to an increase in visitors to your grounds, especially if you have identified architecture, historically relevant sites, famous locals and much more.

Whilst there are increasing restrictions on record keeping cemeteries need to ensure they are compliant. Forget disparate and incomplete record management and move your records and the management of your cemetery to the digital age in an organised and secure way. Helping you met a changing community expectation, provide improved deceased search and compliance capabilities.

Keep an eye on our blog page, we will be posting a video of our recent 'Record keeping challenges for small cemeteries' webinar.

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Wednesday, 03 March 2021

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