Cemetery Project Volunteer Guide and REsources


So you want to get involved in the Cemeteries Project? Excellent. Check out the resources and instructions listed below which will make your work as a volunteer simple and fun!

Get Permission from Property Owners

Many small cemeteries across the county are on private property, and you must respect the wishes of property owners who do not want strangers on their land. If you are seeking permission to examine a cemetery on private land, start by contacting the property owner and politely explaining your participation in a cemetery mapping project. Give them a copy of the information sheet linked below as a printable PDF and let them decide if this is something they will allow. Be respectful, be gracious, and most of all do NOT be intrusive or aggressive about getting permission. 

Required Equipment:

  • A GPS-enabled device. This can be a smartphone, tablet, or handheld GPS like those used for hiking. If you have questions about your device please contact us.
  • A smartphone/tablet app for determining latitude and longitude. If you are using a handheld GPS the device should provide that information automatically. For smartphones we have had good luck with Gaia GPS and GPS Status and Toolbox (free for Android). If you don't want to buy an app, you can follow these instructions for iPhone, Android requires at least google maps or a similar navigation tool.
  • A camera of some sort.
  • Sturdy walking shoes or boots.
  • Bug repellent for ticks.
  • Bottled water.
  • Permission from property owners. Please don't trespass!  

Mapping the Location:

The purpose of this project is to permanently associate a GPS coordinate with each cemetery. However, when mapping the location you should first examine the burying ground to see what is actually there and make some descriptive notes on these points:

  • How big is the cemetery? Estimate the number of visible graves [1-25, 26-50, 50+]
  • Is the cemetery enclosed? Was there a stone wall or iron gate at some point?
  • Describe the terrain the cemetery is in [wooded, on a hill, etc.]
  • What types of material are visible stones made from? The common materials are slate, granite, marble, and sandstone. This information can tell us a lot about the people buried there. This is important for smaller cemeteries, larger ones always have a mix of different stones.
  • What are some of the common surnames in that cemetery? In essence, if you see a lot of Smiths and Palmers then tell us that there were a lot of Smiths and Palmers. This information can often be as useful as a full inventory (which you shouldn't worry about doing if you don't have the time).
  • Take a few photographs showing as much of the cemetery as possible. Don't go to great lengths if the location is large. If you want, also use a camera to document unique carvings you see or early graves.

After describing the cemetery it is time to do the GPS work. Most consumer GPS systems are accurate to within 30 feet depending on the quality of the Satellite connection. This means you should really only worry about getting a fix on one accurate point in the cemetery. Follow these directions:

  • After examining the cemetery and writing descriptive data, head to the spot you think is the center of the burying ground.
  • At the center of the burying ground, activate your GPS or Smartphone app and allow the system a chance to acquire satellites. 
  • Copy down or take a screenshot of the coordinates displayed.
  • Re-load the app and follow the steps a second time, and copy down those coordinates. 
  • Compare them for accuracy and if they don't match then try it a third time. The two coordinate points that match closest are what you should go with.

Great job! The data you have collected should be reported by email or called in to the Vedder Research Library at (518) 731-1033. Thanks for taking the time to work on this effort.