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Title: Geospatial Mapping and Thematic Documentation of Historic Cemeteries

Allison Duncan, AICP
Ecos Environmental Design

The goal of this presentation is to demonstrate how current technology including GIS
mapping, spatial analysis, and thematic documentation provide new dimensions to the
analysis of historic cemeteries. Expanding upon traditional methods of cemetery
documentation and preservation, these new tools and processes help to better articulate
and prioritize existing conditions and issues to a variety of stakeholders at a micro and
macro level.

Micro level (Site)

Oakland Cemetery (48 acres) and Harmony Grove Cemetery (l acre) are located in the
heart of Atlanta, Georgia, and were analyzed and studied using thematic mapping and
GIS mapping methodologies. Despite their difference in size, both cemeteries dealt with
a number of issues including: viewsheds, grave locations, vegetation conditions,
circulation, zoning, and other off-site conditions. Traditional cemetery mapping and
analysis techniques focus on specific conditions related solely to the cemetery or
gravestones without regard for other environmental conditions or factors, which may
extend beyond the cemetery boundaries. Less emphasis is put on investigating broad
scale themes that greatly impact a site’s ability to be preserved and maintained.
Examining these issues in a thematic manner allows complex issues to be given greater
weight with a broader audience, while GIS mapping places analysis and research into an
expanded context. Mapping both cemeteries focused on a broader approach,
investigating issues both within and around the cemetery.

One results of these efforts included greater stakeholder input because of the ability for
those individuals outside the preservation and design community to understand the issues
relative to the site. Additionally, the community and stakeholders were able to better
prioritize preservation efforts, that went beyond basic cyclical maintenance needs. The
ability to broadly interpret and display these issues assisted the stakeholders and the
community to develop a better understanding of their cultural asset.

Macro (region)

Morgan County, a rural in northeast Georgia, undertook a survey of historic cemeteries in
2007. The county includes approximately 356 square miles of mostly agricultural land;
226 cemeteries were documented within unincorporated areas and incorporated
municipalities, using GPS tracking and GIS mapping. Not only is this a valuable tool to
protect historic cemeteries from damage caused by present-day development, but it also
outlined historic patterns of development which formed the basis of a rural preservation
land use plan. Over 25 historic communities were identified within Morgan County
using a variety of archival sources and historic maps. Many of the structures associated
with those communities have long since disappeared, but the cemeteries remain as
tangible placeholders of the legacy of these former communities.

With this information in place, it became a priority to identify those characteristics that
are typical of rural cultural landscapes and understand these characteristics in the context
of the historic communities in which they were located. In the future, these cemetery
locations may foster the creation of historic districts as well as the preservation of
significant rural cultural landscapes.

In summary, both of these projects in their respective rural and urban contexts create
opportunities to see the bigger picture and broader themes of an area or community
beyond just the cemetery site. By comparing the elements of geospatial mapping and
thematic documentation involved with both, this presentation will demonstrate how
technology allows for micro and macro analysis of the significant characteristics,
monument typologies and trends that each site represents, and it lends itself to prioritizing
decision-making in a manner that respects not just the fabric of the individual site, but its
significance to the overall context. These methods are essential to the understanding of
the individual site, contribute to larger planning endeavors, and assist in priority setting
and placemaking that benefits both the site and the community.

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4 Responses to Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit Abstracts and Video

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  2. Robert Wrigley says:

    My wife’s gr-gr-grandfather is a Union soldier buried there. When we visited this grave site last October we were quite dismayed at the condition and damage done to the stones by lawn mowers running over and chipping it. At the time we did not know the full history of the markers being altered in the 1930s. We would fully support the efforts to restore them.
    Would it be possible for a private citizen to be able to contribute to the restoration of their family’s marker or replacement? Perhaps a volunteer effort of those with relatives there could help accomplish some of this initiative to restore to their original condition.

    • Jason Church says:

      Dear Robert,
      The best person to talk with will be Betsy Dinger Elizabeth_Dinger@nps.gov who is a historian for Petersburg National Battlefield and Cemetery.

    • Bryan Cheeseboro says:

      Mr. Wrigley,
      I don’t know if you’ll get this message but I would be very interested to know which of the men buried at Battleground Cemetery is your wife’s gr-gr-grandfather. I am a historian and I have spent the last several years researcing the battle of Fort Stevens and Battleground National Cemetery. Does your wife have a photograph of her ancestor? That would be a goldmine. I have never seen any picture of any of the men killed at the battle.

      If you can be of help to me, my e-mail address is bryanac625@yahoo.com. Thank you.

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