walk through The 167-year-old Carlisle Cemetery in north-west England takes Tim Pooh past WWII soldiers’ graves, Victorian monuments, a narrow stream and evergreens and bushes. But in 2016, when Pooh tried to visit his parents’ grave while attending another funeral, they couldn’t be found. “Because there are no markers and they’re in a woodland cemetery, you can’t get an exact location,” he said.
It’s not that there aren’t cemetery maps — it’s just that they’re mostly paper-only and outdated. In the first woodland cemetery of its kind in the UK, oak trees have been planted over biodegradable graves so there are no headstones. Instead, since 1993, small brass plaques have been hung on a nearby wall to honor the deceased.
The idea was inspired by Pooh’s experience searching for his parents’ graves in Carlisle’s 72-acre municipal cemetery. “I think it would be nice to be able to find people easily,” he said. His company has now taken on the task of mapping every churchyard and municipal cemetery in England – more than 18,000 in all – to create a Google Street View of the cemetery that future generations, genealogists and conservationists can click on the map See who was buried there and when.
Viney knows maps like the back of his hand. The surveyor worked for over 20 years in different parts of the world, from the Caribbean to the Middle East, before returning to Cumbria, UK. In 2002, Viney took over a three-employee surveying company and renamed it Atlantic Geomatics. Since then, the company has undertaken major projects, including mapping Gibraltar on behalf of the UK government, over a period of five years.
The database that Atlantic Geomatics is now developing jointly with the Church of England (CofE) will be of particular interest to amateur and professional genealogists.popular TV series such as who do you think You Are?Stories of famous people looking for distant relatives have sparked interest in family history and even estate tourism. The Society of Genealogists has approximately 12,000 members worldwide.
But finding out where ancestors were buried is time-consuming. When priests receive inquiries from citizens, they must scan their registries and index cards for marriage and burial certificates, then find matching names on paper maps of their cemeteries. The online database, due to launch in late 2022, will be the go-to resource for interactive maps, records, and photographs of tombstones and memorials, Viney said. “It will save a lot of time and potentially generate some revenue for the church.” The public will be able to view a map and click on individual graves on the website, but will have to pay to search for names and dates or download records and photos.
But first, there is a lot of surveying and mapping. Since November 2021, Atlantic Geomatics surveyors have been lining up through the cemetery carrying a Leica Pegasus backpack containing five 20-megapixel cameras, a GPS receiver and two 300,000-per-second laser scanner for each measurement. “The beauty is that we can do it under trees, behind buildings, things like that,” Viney said. Early trials have shown that drones are not the answer.