Websites such as Findagrave, Billiongraves, and CanadianHeadstones have allowed for relatives far off to see photos of the headstones of those who have passed. While leaving virtual flowers has never really blossomed into a routine, answering photos requests for others has, and so has building virtual cemeteries.
Those new to the realm of headstone digitization may be scratching their head asking, “What the hell is a virtual cemetery?” The easy answer is this: virtual cemeteries are bookmarks of where friends and family are buried. (Some people even create virtual cemeteries for celebrities that have passed or just interesting stones they find in their ventures.) Findagrave even allows you to create memorials in these virtual cemeteries for pets who have passed, a wonderful touch for those who were unable to buy their pet in a location that can be visited.
As a genealogist, I’ve created virtual cemeteries for others while doing research (only if applicable to the question they want me to answer). I then give them the link to the virtual cemetery and a certain time period in which they can copy the information over. By doing this, I give them something a bit more fleshed out than just a list of where their family is buried.
For my own personal use, virtual cemeteries hold two purposes:
- To provide an easy list of who I’m visiting. – When I do get the chance to visit a cemetery where family is buried, life becomes much easier if I can simply open up the link to the virtual cemetery. Remembering the four family members buried in Saint Bruno Cemetery is one thing, but the 10 in Saint John’s? Or the 16 in Newman Cemetery? That gets a bit trickier.
- To help give historical societies and cemetery commissions approval for cleaning and resetting stones in my family. – Over the years headstones collect growth, become discolored, topple over, or are slowly eaten up by the earth. In many states it is illegal to clean stones without getting permission from the family or the sexton of the cemetery. As much as I would love to be able to visit and tend all of my family’s stones, that’s an insurmountable task. When I hear of historical societies or cemetery commissions planning work sessions, I always check my virtual cemetery listing to see if I’m related to anyone in the cemetery so I can give proper permission for stone maintenance, and even provide those doing the work with a list.
While virtual cemeteries may seem a bit hokey to some, they can most certainly serve a purpose. From providing a list of who to “call on,” to making a virtual graveyard of interesting celebrities, everyone can find a reason to make these little memorial oasis.