Records are at the heart of every cemetery and not only provide an invaluable window into the past but are critical to planning and managing its future. In an increasingly tech-driven world, digitization transforms the way we record, manage and track data, and burial records are no exception.
Digitizing burial records is not a new concept, and the rise in popularity of genealogy in recent years has led to significantly more searches for burial information from families looking to find out more about their ancestors. That said, there is still a significant proportion of cemeteries that are yet to fully utilize the technology to help not only protect this critical historical information but improve the visibility and speed at which this information can be accessed.
Why digitize your burial records?
There are a number of reasons why you should consider digitizing your burial records. Here are our top 4:
Protects original documents and data
Many cemeteries will fulfill requests for information by manually searching through their physical burial records, which are often extremely fragile. The frequent wear and tear of repeat searches put these documents at risk of deterioration. In addition, these documents are often stored locally at the cemeteries, parishes, or town halls, where there is the ever-present risk of fire or water damage. Increasingly turbulent weather systems mean that flooding is becoming a growing concern for cemeteries; Nottingham Road Cemetery in the UK is just one of many which experienced severe flooding twice in one week in January 2021, following heavy rainfall. And in 2019, records dating back to the 19th century from the National Record of Scotland archives were damaged after hours of torrential rain. It is simply not possible to completely guarantee the safety and preservation of physical records, making the switch to digital records an essential consideration.
Reduces demand on cemetery staff
With many local councils and parishes facing budget cuts, the pressure on cemetery staff to continue business as usual with reduced capacity is an ongoing challenge. Fulfilling public requests for searches can be time-consuming, and there have been reports of a backlog of searches due to delays caused by the pandemic. Digitizing burial records enables staff to do searches in a matter of seconds, significantly increasing their ability to fulfill multiple requests in a short period of time and freeing them up to focus on other important duties.
Allows the public to make searches directly
The rise in popularity of genealogy means that the public are now eager to take record searching into their own hands. Digitizing burial records means that it is possible for the public to search directly simply by entering a few key details about the deceased. This can either be made available at the cemetery by offering a public access computer or tablet device or by hosting your digital records on your cemetery website, where users can instantly search without having to visit the cemetery in person. This again frees up cemetery staff to focus on more pressing duties while also opening the cemetery to a wider customer base. It also helps to establish the cemetery on the map as a local heritage and historical source.
Provides opportunities for increased revenue
Once your burial data has been digitized, it can provide opportunities for generating repeat revenue by charging for copies of the records. Fees could be charged for printing copies of a particular record or for the digital download if accessing the records online. Not only does this provide a much-needed and in-demand service for which the public is happy to pay, it means that the initial costs for digitizing records can be gradually recouped over a period of time.
Clearly, there are many benefits to digitizing your records, so why are so many cemeteries yet to take advantage? Here are some of the commonly perceived challenges that cemetery managers face when considering a digitization project:
Lack of experience
Most cemetery managers do not have previous experience of digitization projects and so do not know what to expect. This means that they struggle to know exactly what they are looking for in a supplier, what the process will entail, and what impact it will have on the day-to-day running of the cemetery while the digitization is taking place. Too much uncertainty means that digitization projects tend to remain on the to-do list but never seem to make it over the line.
Lack of vision for project
One of the biggest problems faced with digitization is a lack of vision regarding what the project is designed to achieve. There are a number of ways in which records can be digitized, and the exact process depends on why the project is required. Purely keeping a digital record in the event of damage to the physical records is different from creating a fully searchable online archive for the public to access. Not fully understanding the WHY when it comes to record digitization is one of the biggest challenges for cemetery managers to overcome.
Digitizing burial records requires a complete transformation in the way cemetery staff interact with the information. Training will be required for many staff who are used to the ‘old way’ of doing things to help bring them up to speed. Concerns over how staff will respond to the new system are another common challenge faced by cemetery managers.
To help overcome the challenges associated with digitizing your burial records, it is essential to find a supplier and a system which fully meets your requirements. It can be helpful to consider the following aspects when assessing the most appropriate solution for your cemetery:
- Records Management – consider who needs to access the information, when, and how. Consider your needs for burial and memorial locations, Rights of Interment / Burial Rights, deceased persons, exhumations, documents, and images.
- Mapping & Inventory – do you need to visually map all your memorial locations, including graves, mausolea, and ash placements? Do you want to utilize mapping to show your inventory availability and make it easy for the public to navigate their way to burial or memorial locations?
- Compliance – Will the solution comply with Statutory record-keeping legislation and the safekeeping of all paper-based or digital records?
- A Good Fit – Is the supplier sensitive to your specific needs, challenges and requirements and has addressed these in their recommended solution?
Recognizing what cemeteries needed in a digital solution, OpusXenta has created RecordKeepr, an easy-to-use solution that provides a wealth of capability to help you manage your cemeteries records, ensure compliance with record-keeping legislation, and keep your data in digital format. RecordKeepr can even help you to generate maps, so the public can easily find a location in your cemetery.
When looking to the future of cemetery management, digitization of burial records is inevitable. It is no longer a question of if but when.