This article was originally published in the King City California Cemetery Newsletter.
With the click of her mouse, Dayna Jacobs can tell you everything you want to know about the King City California Cemetery. Where is Uncle Billy buried? She’s got the lot and grave number, along with a nicely printed map so you can find the grave. Who owns the empty lot in the far west corner? She can tell you that, too. But what about when somebody calls from across the country looking for cemetery information? Dayna just sends them to the internet, where they can see exactly what she’s talking about.
Does it sound too good to be true? Ten years ago it would have been.
But today, the King City Cemetery has gone global—and it’s all thanks to Dayna Jacobs, The Cemetery Lady.
Several years ago, Dayna decided she wanted to contribute her time and efforts to the genealogy community, and especially to her adopted hometown of King City, California. She began by contacting the town’s cemetery. Could they use her help in digitizing the cemetery’s records? The answer was a resounding, “Yes!”
You see, the King City Cemetery’s records were like those of many cemeteries across the country—all on paper. Dayna found stacks and stacks of 3x5 cards containing the burial records, along with several ancient ledgers, some hand-drawn maps, and even old receipt books.
Dayna says, “The various record-keepers did a very good job through the years. But there were a variety of individuals recording purchases and burials, several different types of records kept, and there had been many physical changes in the cemetery.”
The current sexton’s greatest fear throughout his eighteen years at the cemetery was that he would make a mistake and sell a plot twice―or that he would bury someone in the wrong plot. And searching for a grave in the cemetery was very time-consuming.
All of these challenges made it difficult to create a new digital record that was consistent and correct. Dayna began by creating an Excel database and entering all the information from the 3x5 cards into the computer. She then added the information from the ledgers and the maps. When everything had been entered, she had entered nearly 5,000 records, and was able to create a printed database with an index by alphabet and grave number.
But it just wasn’t enough. The printout could not be kept current without great expense, and the cemetery did not own a computer to maintain the database. It fell to Dayna to keep the file current from her home.
Then came the day when the Cemetery District Secretary moved and the Cemetery Board of Trustees decided to hire her as their new secretary. “That’s when I began to talk to them about the possibility of buying a computer for the office, and cemetery software to keep track of things,” says Dayna. “I knew there must be cemetery software out there somewhere that could make this easier.”
After much research, Dayna and the Cemetery Board decided on a cemetery management system called Spatial GENERATIONS by Gateway Mapping, Inc. She liked it because they were able to use all the information she had already entered into the Excel database; the technology integrated a computer-based map with the records; and the system was flexible and could be designed to fit their unique needs. But most of all, the program was uncomplicated and easy to use.
That’s when Dayna really got busy. She and Jose Galindo, the cemetery manager, walked through the entire cemetery, from headstone to headstone, checking the information there against her map. There had been many physical changes in the cemetery throughout its hundred years―the graves had been re-subdivided, acreage and roads had been added, trees had grown larger, and large monuments had been erected. They redrew the plots as they actually exist, and then submitted both the database and the map to Gateway Mapping.
“I wish we would have done this years ago! They produced an accurate digital map and management system for us that has made record-keeping at our cemetery so much easier,” says Dayna.
“In the past, when someone came in wanting to buy a plot, we had to hunt through the cards and records to find what was available, and we were always worried about the accuracy of our records. Now when someone comes in, the manager can go to the computer and click on the color-coded map to see what plots and graves are available. He quickly knows which plots have already been purchased and who owns them.”
“We now have a consistent, easy-to-manage system,” she continues. “It is simple to record each new burial and purchase, and we can keep our maps and records current at the same time. We are able to search our database in seconds and even create detailed reports.”
Dayna is delighted with the reaction from visitors to the cemetery. “Our little cemetery is in a remote rural area. I think they come in to ask for information thinking we’ll produce our old card system. Aren’t they amazed when they see that it’s all computerized?” She smiles. “They love that we can just click on a grave and access all the burial information about their loved ones, and we can print out a map to help them find their family graves. And the people in our town are very appreciative―very proud of our ‘high-tech’ cemetery!”
Jose Galindo agrees. “I feel good knowing our records are more accurate―I can give much better service to the public now.”
The most exciting thing for Dayna and the others at the King City Cemetery has been putting their cemetery records on the internet.
“Our cemetery has had to deal with a difficult and time-consuming problem―as I’m sure all other cemeteries do. That is the inquiries from people visiting the cemetery regarding where family members are buried. In the past, Jose spent a lot of time helping these people find family members’ graves. Often we would have to coordinate over the phone when he saw potential discrepancies, and he would need me to look up records on the computer. Now that part of our job is so much easier because of Spatial GENERATIONS’ compatibility with the new website ‘Names in Stone.’ (www.namesinstone.com.) We just direct people to that website and they can look up the maps and information for themselves.”
Everyone at the King City Cemetery is thrilled to have a presence on this website that hosts multiple cemeteries. “I had submitted our database to several online cemetery sites and created a simple little site of our own, but it was a hassle to update the data, and not all of the sites even have the capability of updating or making corrections. Now I don't have to worry about that with ‘Names in Stone.’ Jose just clicks on the ‘update’ icon on his desktop every week and all of the new burials are uploaded.”
“Jose is also very pleased with the new map of the cemetery, with the names of every burial printed on the graves. He built a special display case outside of the office for visitors who come when the office is closed, and we have the ‘Names in Stone’ website address there so they know how they can access our cemetery map and records.” Dayna adds, “That is something that really amazes our visitors.”
And what about Dayna Jacobs? After years of being a permanent fixture around the cemetery, she is no longer a paid employee. She just doesn’t have the time.
“But I am not worried now because I know the records will be easily maintained by others and preserved digitally and online. It has been very satisfying to know that 100 years of our town history is now safe, and the management of the cemetery has been made easier for future employees.”
But she still helps out as a volunteer at the cemetery. She laughs, “I didn't set out to be the ‘Cemetery Lady,’ but I guess that's what I have become!”