Virtual Cemeteries

Managing a public cemetery is just one of the many tasks handled by a public works department. Typically we take care of cutting grass, repairing monuments, paving/plowing roads, removing leaves, burying people, selling lots, and handling the documentation and requests for grave locations. Little has changed over the years in how these duties are administered. But now, new tools like mobile devices, virtual worlds, and augmented reality offer us the ability to enhance delivery of some of these services.

Augmented reality (AR), or overlaying a computer generated image onto the real environment, is now available with the use of a mobile device like the iPhone. So how can this be used in the cemetery?
First let’s see how the City of Manor, Texas, used AR to created a Christmas greeting with the help of Muzar.org: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityofmanor/4203935446/

Applying this concept to cemeteries, cities could contract with organizations like muzar.org to allow people to post digital content for their loved ones grave site. This content could be images of the loved one or family or even the home in which they lived. As a genealogist, I could also see the benefit of displaying documents related to the person’s life. Perhaps eventually people would be offered the chance to save this digital information for their own family history files.

At some point perhaps AR could also allow us to input a loved ones name while standing in the cemetery and have a virtual path displayed on the ground leading us to the grave. This technology could also allow the city to arrange for unsold lots to display a certain color when a person scans the cemetery with a mobile device.

The city of Manor is also using QR codes – here is an example of their use in a city park: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityofmanor/2780890639/. Cities could use these codes in the cemetery to convey information. The codes could be placed on or near the graves or on maps printed out from a city Website or distributed at the cemetery. Then visitors to the cemetery could access the code once they are in the cemetery. These codes could link to information posted by the family, to information held by the city about that gravesite, or even at some point to information about the person on sites like Ancestry.com.

Finally something I have not yet seen but wonder at its application is the use of virtual worlds. If a cemetery was recreated in a 3-D application such as Second Life, a person could virtually visit the cemetery. This technology also allows for people to attach information, images, and video. I also wonder if someday we will be able to link our avatar’s movements to our own. Then while standing in the real cemetery we could access the virtual cemetery on our mobile device and walk our avatar to the virtual grave while we walk to the real one. This would allow us to experience whatever was placed at the virtual grave while we are standing at the real grave.

(Originally posted to Public Works Group Blog)

Leave a Comment

7 Comments

Leave a Reply

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Fascinating. I know there has been examples as well where people's myspace and facebook pages of people that have passed away have continued as an online cemetery for friends to honor them.

Profile Photo Andrew Krzmarzick

Interesting post, Pam. I had never thought about the application of this kind of technology to cemeteries. A couple ideas built on your foundation:

1. Use an app like Wikitude to ensure that relevant Wikipedia entries are assigned to the person's gravesite. If not, provide an opportunity for interested people to create an entry.

2. Video or photos of the grave site itself that people can visit virtually....looks like there's the start to something on Genealogy.com.

Would be pretty sweet to have audio/video libraries of the person, as you describe.

Wonder if this publication (or similar) would be interested in publishing your blog post?

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

Great ideas! Findagrave.com also allows anyone to upload photos and info about graves so tying in sites like that, the genealogy.com site and Wikipedia all just enhance the delivery. My interest in it all this is both as a huge "user" of cemeteries for genealogical research and then as a manager of a public cemetery. As a manager I am trying to reduce the "hits" our on site guy gets for assistance and at the same time provide better methods to deliver the information.

Thanks for the link to the publication!- will see if I can beef up the post a little to meet their word requirement.

Profile Photo Michael McCarthy, APR

Very interesting - when I saw Manor's Santa, applying this to a cemetery was the first thing that came to my mind - but you have really expanded what can be done. You could also incorporate historic walks, highlighting the famous or interesting people in the cemetery.

Profile Photo Pam Broviak

Michael, I really like the idea of the historic walks. Many cemeteries offer these one or two days a year with live actors. But with this technology, these walks could be offered all year round.

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

I do like the idea of virtual walks. I think of my grandfathers grave in Cody, Wyoming and how I'd live to visit but physically it is really tough. I'd live to se a live feed or somehow give flowers whether virtual or a way to send them physically but see them

Profile Photo Joy Gatewood

Interesting. I research my family's genealogy and part of that research involves photographing and posting my ancestor's tombstones to the online family tree. Its so helpful for those family members who are housebound or unable to travel. In some cases its the only pictorial representation one has of the family member, and almost serves as an avatar for them. Physical cemeteries consume a lot of real estate - maybe as the earth's population swells, virtual cemeteries will be the norm?