Sunday, March 7, 2010

Doin' Things Right - Carnival of Genealogical Societies - First Edition

Entrance and office, Fraser Cemetery, New Westminster, BC. Photograph, M. Diane Rogers, 2008.

Kathryn Doyle who writes over at the California Genealogical Society blog has created the Carnival of Genealogical Societies. The first edition is: Doin' Things Right! We were to “shine a spotlight on a specific program, project, or publication at a genealogical society and tell us why it worked.”

One place I feel most genealogical societies 'do right' is in organizing and enhancing the activities and energy of its members and volunteers to benefit the wider genealogical and historical communities. The work of the BC Genealogical Society (BCGS) cemetery committee is a good example of this.

The Society started in 1971 and, as with most groups, members came from a variety of backgrounds and had a number of different interests, but many of their long term goals were the same. One of the Society's initial objectives was to preserve British Columbia’s genealogical records, including cemetery records and gravestone inscriptions. This was particularly important here as some older BC cemeteries are subject to extreme weathering or are in remote areas and not easily accessible. Information from these cemeteries needed to be preserved and made easily available to researchers. Preserving cemetery information is still one of the BCGS's objectives today - and many cemeteries here are active ones; surname and inscription listings need to be updated regularly.

Several members had done some cemetery recording before the Society started. Others who lived close to a smaller cemetery or who often travelled around British Columbia for business or pleasure began to do the same, but they recorded inscriptions on each gravestone in the cemeteries they came across. And very soon, society members ensured that these recordings would be available to others by organizing volunteers to type up inscriptions in a format that would make them easy to publish in the Society’s journal or to index and publish for committee or library use.

Some cemeteries are too large for one or two volunteers though and again the committee found volunteers to work on the larger projects together. The recording of Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver, for example, took four years and the work of many volunteers to finish. Some who worked on the Mountain View project still remember their working field trips which were followed usually by lunch and good conversation at a Chinese restaurant. After this followed the typing of the inscriptions from the volunteers’ scribblers, the indexing and the typing up of cards for these - some 50,000 cards - then the proofreading, and the outline, layout and publishing of the index.

In the 1980s, the Committee began publishing new cemetery inscriptions for sale which meant these were available at a reasonable price to libraries, other societies and to individuals. In turn, this meant BC cemetery information was much more widely available.

This was all before computers, but Cemetery Committee members have always been quick to adopt new methods and assistance has usually been at hand from other members interested in new technology and tools. A member’s son developed the Cemetery Data Handler (CDH) computer programme which was used by the BCGS until fairly recently when a newer programme was needed for publishing. Nowadays we use digital cameras instead of scribblers for recording, and publish more on CD than on paper, but we can still have fun while working on our cemetery recordings.

Fraser Cemetery, New Westminster, BC, 2008. Photograph, M. Diane Rogers

In recent years, the Committee has updated most of its older cemetery recordings for active cemeteries. Again, this was often done by individual members for smaller cemeteries, or sometimes by volunteer groups in co-operation with the BCGS. But Committee members just finished two large projects, the re-recording and photographing of all the inscriptions of gravestones in St Peter’s and Fraser cemeteries in New Westminster, BC. Research was also done in other sources for this project, including in burial records and newspapers.

A genealogical society like the BCGS can co-ordinate these larger projects more easily than an ad hoc group, and has experienced members and volunteers to draw on, who are willing to teach the 'newbies'. And, because the BCGS Cemetery Committee has considerable experience editing and publishing cemetery recordings, the project results will be made available to others quickly and at a reasonable cost. And, the BCGS has BC Research services and a Library of its own where the information is used in assisting others to find their BC roots.

Columbarium added 2008, Fraser Cemetery, New Westminster, BC, 2008. Photograph, M. Diane Rogers.


British Columbia Genealogical Society Cemetery Committee webpage:

British Columbia Genealogical Society:

British Columbia Genealogical Society, 1971-1996: The First Quarter Century edited by Barbara Rogers and compiled by Maureen Hyde (Richmond, BC: British Columbia Genealogical Society, 1998).

Cemetery Recording Booklet edited by Valerie Hooper (Richmond, BC: British Columbia Genealogical Society, revised, 2006).

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