'Google for graves' will make millions of memorials available online

Project dubbed ‘Google Maps for graves’ will make millions of memorials and final resting places available online

  • Surveyors have begun the task of scanning headstones at 19,000 sites
  • The seven-year project will create a database of resting places
  • It promises to be a gold mine for amateur genealogists
  • The first headstones to be scanned were at St Bega church in Cumbria
  • Grasmere’s – the resting place of William Wordsworth – is also soon to be scanned
  • ‘It will soon be possible to visit almost any Anglican burial ground in the country’ 

A ‘Google Maps for graves’ project is to make millions of memorials available online.

Surveyors with high-tech £100,000 backpacks have begun the task of scanning headstones at 19,000 sites.

‘It does look a bit like Ghostbusters,’ said Tim Viney of Cumbria-based Atlantic Geomatics, which is working with the Church of England.

The first headstones to be scanned were at the ancient church of St Bega, on Bassenthwaite lake, Cumbria.

The seven-year project will create a database that promises to be a gold mine for amateur genealogists.

Also among the initial batch of churchyards to be surveyed will be nearby Grasmere’s – the resting place of William Wordsworth.

Among the initial batch of churchyards to be surveyed will be nearby Grasmere’s – the resting place of William Wordsworth

Once the laborious task of putting the database together is complete, could also reduce pressure on vicars inundated with queries from around the world from people researching their English ancestors.

The Church of England has partnered with Cumbrian-based surveying company Atlantic Geomatics who will use back-pack mounted laser scanners costing more than £100,000 apiece and are fitted with five cameras, two laser scanners and a GPS tracker.

Surveyors walk along every alternate row of graves, scanning the position of every memorial, building, wall and tree, taking up to 50million measurements in every graveyard.

Each operative is likely to be able to scan nine or ten sites a day before the data is processed using bespoke software.

Bishop Andrew Rumsey, the CofE’s lead for church buildings, said: ‘This impressive national project will make a huge difference to those researching family history, as well as easing the administrative burden on parishes.

‘It will soon be possible to visit almost any Anglican burial ground in the country and see in real time the location of burial plots.

‘It will soon be possible to visit almost any Anglican burial ground in the country and see in real time the location of burial plots,’ said Bishop Andrew Rumsey

‘For those researching at distance in the UK or overseas, the digital records will place detailed information from churchyards at their fingertips.’

Basic information is likely to be available for free when a new website goes online next year, with further details available to paying subscribers.

Funding for the programme has been given by Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Caring for God’s Acre, a charity working to preserve burial grounds, plus support from genealogy research websites.

A vast increase in the amount of searchable historical records available online has boosted interest in family history, helped by television programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are?

The Society of Genealogists has 11,000 members, and there are family history groups and clubs in most towns in the UK.

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