Hagar Township’s cemetery mapping project is underway

Cemetery data spread out between spreadsheets, handwritten and typed books, and coffee-stained maps paint a very real picture for many communities. The effects of disjointed data can cause headaches for municipal Clerks and even frustration in the public. Some organizations have invested time and money to consolidate their records, but still cannot visualize all the burial records on a map. There are many challenges that come with effectively operating a cemetery, and data is one of the biggest.

Hagar Township, with 3,671 residents and the responsibility of maintaining three cemeteries including Lake Shore, Curtis, and Harris, has taken the lead to modernize their historic cemetery records. The township enlisted the GIS (Geographic Information System) team from Wightman, a multi-disciplinary architecture and engineering firm based in Southwest Michigan, to preserve their historic cemetery records and make them accessible through an interactive database and map. 

Hagar Township understands the benefits of an online mapping system. Township staff will be enabled  to visualize records as they haven’t before, finally able to place a location with a name. Staff will also maintain more accurate records, with an up-to-date listing of what cemetery plots are owned by which family. The township’s cemetery system will become an important planning tool, allowing the municipality to visualize capacity issues before they occur, which can facilitate strategic growth. Upon completion of this project, a public online mapping system will be available beyond the walls of township hall, a space where citizens and the public researching history or genealogy can now independently locate loved ones.

The township is utilizing the help of resident volunteers to assist in completing the mapping work. The first step onsite is to utilize high-accuracy GPS to locate known cemetery site features, and then lay out spacing based on corner markers.  Equipped with tape measurers, metal detectors, and tablets, the volunteer group, which includes township residents, Hagar Township staff, and Wightman personnel, has gathered at Lake Shore Cemetery the past two Saturdays to begin acquiring the data needed to complete the online map. Volunteers visit each gravesite and input data including the name, birth and death dates, any military service, as well as a photo of the headstone. 

With the data collected, Hagar Township’s modern GIS cemetery system will offer the preservation of historical cemetery records, capturing the knowledge base of seasoned staff, enable citizens to find loved ones using online interactive cemetery maps, provide a centralized access to records for staff, ensure consistent placement and management of plots, and provide a real-time picture of cemetery capacity. 

During the last phase of this project, Wightman will train Township staff on how best to manage and maintain their new GIS system, so that the cemetery data will always stay current.  Hagar Township’s online cemetery map is anticipated to be available later this year.

Digital mapping of the township’s cemeteries ensures the past will always be present.