Geolocating your rural cemetery for the world

Working with old cemeteries and burials, online or on the ground, often means trying to explain to others where, exactly, it is located.

Google’s maps have become the number-one goto resource for all things geolocated; to find restaurants, parking spots, even the faster route during morning rush hour. But it is woefully under-representing small cemeteries in the countryside. Sure, you can drop a location pin and create a map or list of directions – but that’s like marking an X on a paper map: it only exists on that one map, and only you and maybe the person you shared the url with know what it means.

Enter OpenStreetMap.Org.

On OpenStreetMap.Org (OSM) you can add your cemetery’s information to the database, or edit it if someone already did (and maybe got a detail or two wrong.) You can mark a point (such as the location of the church or chapel), or a line (like the road between sections), or an area (for example, the outline of the entire cemetery, or a section within the cemetery, or even a single grave plot.)

As soon as you save your edit, you can look at it on the map – it still hasn’t been shared around the world yet, but it will be over the next hours. And, once you can look at it, you can create an image of it, or you can create a url to share your map point, or you can create a blob of html to embed the map in your web page.

SVG map generated by OpenStreetMap.Org
SVG map generated by OpenStreetMap.Org

Now, here comes the magic: when I created the entries for St. John’s church and cemetery, Google Maps just had the church. Now Google displays a green field for the cemetery, and will probably soon have a name on that green field. Mapquest had nothing, but now has the church and cemetery. Bing, Yahoo!, and all the other search engines with maps will soon, if not already, have the name of the cemetery and its location in their database. And the spiders now search for mentions of St. John’s Catholic Cemetery near Argyle, MN, so the Marshall County page will become higher-ranked and appear in more search results.