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Why are accurate cemetery maps important for Local Councils ?
We explore why accurate cemetery maps and burial records are important for Local Councils from the perspective of those who gain value from them.
| Read time: 6 mins
To borrow a quote from a colleague, cemeteries are physical spaces with simple problems. And to speak to the question of why accurate cemetery plot maps are important - it’s because they both help to solve, prevent and mitigate many of those problems.
In this blog we consider why it’s a good idea to know exactly what you have and where you have it from the perspective of those who use your maps and the value they can gain from them. That’s you as an authority, the families you serve, and your other stakeholders.
1. Maps and legislation
Before we get there, let’s first consider in terms of legislation and regulatory requirements.
In Northern Ireland, in reference to the function of a council in relation to its burial ground, The Burial Grounds Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1992 states that,
“A council shall maintain a map showing and allocating distinctive numbers to all graves and vaults in which burials have been made and all grave spaces subject to rights sold under section 178 of the Act of 1878.”
Similarly, in England and Wales, under the Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977, Article 9 - Plan and record of cemetery,
“9(1) A burial authority shall maintain a plan showing and allocating distinctive numbers to (a) all graves or vaults in which burials are made after the coming into operation of this order or are known to have been made before that event…”; and going further, in terms of record-keeping,
“9(2) A burial authority shall also maintain records, by reference to numbers in the plan, of (a) the burials made after the coming into operation of this order in any graves or vaults…”.
The veracity of your plans and your cemetery burial records, then, are predicated on the accuracy of the information you hold. While a grave number can provide you with an ‘address’, it's imperative - certainly from the standpoint of compliance - that you’re certain of who is buried there, and how to find them.
Not only this, but as we have seen from numerous news reports, wrongly marked graves or misplaced remains can of course have devastating real world consequences, not least of which is the distress caused to families of loved ones who had been visiting the wrong grave for years, discovering a multiple occupancy family plot is full when prepared a grave for a new interment, or the issues caused by opening up the wrong plots.
The ability to match exact plot locations to accurate records is just one way in which you can mitigate the risk of this happening.
2. The challenge of legacy
Ensuring complete accuracy can become a challenge when using older, inherited legacy systems that are reliant on matching records to old, paper maps, and the institutional knowledge that is subject to natural attrition.
Not all maps are created equal of course, and in working with cemeteries over the years, we’ve seen a variety of maps of varying format and quality, and often in deteriorating condition. These have ranged from hand drawn maps, sometimes going back hundreds of years, to map books, lot cards, excel spreadsheets, digitally recreated maps from traced drawings, and more.
Not all formats of course, are without merit, but maintained or overwritten manually over years or decades, they can be subject to inaccuracies or errors, and can be difficult to manage - certainly in the case of lot cards - where thousands may be stored away in filing cabinets and aren’t easily accessible.
Before we get to the solution, let’s take a look at those who can benefit from accurate digital cemetery maps.
3. Local Authorities
From burial administration, to parks, operations planning, and service delivery, we can start to see a wide range of ways in which accurate, digital cemetery maps, linked to plot records can provide benefits to burial authorities.
For example, as highlighted in the APSE State of the Market Survey 2022, land availability continues to be a key issue, with an increase in importance placed on identifying land for cemeteries. From a service efficiency perspective, ideas being considered include the utilisation of unused cemetery land, “to develop burial vaults, sarcophagi and mausoleum plots, [leading to] increased revenue, additional burial provision and greater choice for local families.”
A verified mapping process that provides a forensic audit of cemetery grounds can provide an up-to-date, clear and accurate, picture of your inventory.
Knowing exactly what you have and where will allow you to accurately forecast, plan and maximise the space you have most effectively.
Audits can not only highlight irregularities or errors in plot locations, but even identify untapped inventory that you may not have been aware of.
While thousands of plots across hundreds of acres in multiple sites pose a certain amount of risk, with accurate maps, there also comes opportunity.
The customer experience is increasingly becoming a digital one. Advancements in technology and greater connectivity have changed how we interact with the world. Whether purchasing goods online, booking holidays or making funeral arrangements, all of these processes can now be done remotely and without face-to-face interaction, and with this sea change has come a change in expectations and perceptions. 
Many councils are implementing digital strategies - digitising records and moving systems online; not only has this become good practice in terms of business continuity in light of lessons learned from COVID, but it’s also helping them to meet these changing customer needs and expectations.
For example, how easy is it currently for a family to select a resting place within your cemeteries? Reconciling old paper maps with office burial plot records can be time consuming and prone to error, but with accurate digital maps linked directly to burial plot information, accessible in moments, that process can become much more streamlined.
Similarly, accurate mapping information linked to plot records can help families wanting to find the burial location of long-lost relatives - not always a straightforward task with hundreds of plots, acres of ground, and thousands of records to sort through. Having the ability to access that information almost instantly, and even provide directions to grave locations, can help to provide a greater level of customer service.
In short, accurate digital maps are important because they allow you to deliver the level of service your families now expect.
Your team and your families are of course not the only groups reliant on the accuracy of your mapping information. Other deathcare partners or stakeholders such as Memorial Masons delivering their services within cemetery grounds.
In the case of Memorial Masons, being able to pinpoint exact locations of cemetery plots with accurate records will help to improve communication and improve workflows - linking information on facilities, plot sections, row nos. to deed holder details, along with work and memorial types provides a complete picture of exactly what needs to be carried out and where. And having this information available on tablet devices with high resolution, accurate cemetery maps means plots can be found at the click of a button, and work completed and logged onsite without having to go back and forth to the office.
With genealogy becoming increasingly popular , making your cemetery maps and records available to the public provides an opportunity for you to engage with your community and provide real added value to your service delivery.
Indeed, as indicated in the APSE State of the Market Survey 2022, the provision of genealogy services is part of the conversation with regards to the growing need to adapt service provision.
PlotBox’s Everafter is one way to help you do this, providing a portal with public deceased record search and easy-to-follow directions to exact plot locations on high resolution digital cemetery maps.
Having total confidence in your data means knowing that what is on the ground matches exactly what you have in the office, providing you with a single source of truth accessible by your team and utilised by your families and your stakeholders.
Click here to learn more about verified mapping with PlotBox.
A. Chinn, Hubspot, May 22
Watch how PlotBox has helped Watford Council transform how their cemeteries are run and brought their services into the 21st Century: