Tombstone Tuesday: Using Your GPS in the Cemetery

Those who know me know that I love technology and, further, I love gadgets. It came as no surprise two or three years ago when I asked for a GPS unit for Christmas. What did surprise a few people was the reason I wanted it: to take it with me to cemeteries and mark the location of graves I’d found. Besides the “techie” part of me being happy, the genealogist part of me was thrilled. Now I could return to a specific grave without having to hunt for it or stop in the cemetery office.

As I’ve worked with my GPS unit — a Garmin GPSmap 60CS — I’ve developed a method for using it in conjunction with my digital camera. Rather than saving the position on the GPS itself and then having to enter some sort of description so I’d know which grave it referred to, I simply take a picture of the GPS right before I take a picture of the tombstone.

Here are a few things I’ve found useful:

  • Be consistent in when you take the GPS photo. Do it either always before or always after you take the tombstone photo. This will help eliminate confusion later when you’re looking at the photos.
  • If possible, try to get a bit of the tombstone in the GPS photo. In the photo above, you can see a bit of the tombstone in the upper right-hand corner. This also helps you match the GPS with the tombstone.
  • Become familiar with your camera so you know where you can best focus for the GPS shot. You want the unit close enough so that the numbers are very legible when you look at the photo later. (Otherwise, what’s the point?) With my little camera (a FujiFilm Finepix Z), I’ve found that it will quickly focus if I hold the GPS at arm’s length.
  • Make sure there isn’t glare on the GPS’ screen; it makes the numbers illegible in the photo. 

Joel Parsons, Union Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio
The photo above is the one I took when I was at Union Cemetery on the north side of Columbus. Not only is it a huge cemetery — 128 acres — but it is split into two major sections on opposite sides of a very busy road. You don’t want to wander around looking for a stone if you don’t have to! Now the next time I want to visit the grave of Medal of Honor recipient Joel Parsons (private, Company B, 4th West Virginia Infantry), I know exactly where to go. (Well, actually, plus or minus 15 feet.)

For those of you who follow Tombstone Tuesday, I’d like to thank you for your patience over the past few weeks. Between preparations for the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference, the conference itself, losing power for 5 days (!!), and autumn quarter staring, I simply have not had the opportunity to post like I’ve wanted to. Hopefully, I will be able to get back on a good schedule and return to having Tombstone Tuesday be a weekly event!

Posted: September 30, 2008.

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