WILMINGTON — So, you’ve finally decided to knock that genealogy project off the to-do list, and one of your first stops is Cathedral Cemetery off Lancaster Pike in Wilmington, where two generations of your family are buried.
You’ve packed a notebook and pen, charged the laptop and have plenty of room on your cell phone for photographs. But it’s been a while since you’ve visited the cemetery, the office is closed for the weekend and you have to find the graves on your own. Instead of a nice start on the family tree, you spent 90 percent of your time walking up and down rows of headstones looking for a grandfather or aunt.
Well, thanks to Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of Wilmington, those days are in the past. The organization has launched an app for smartphones and tablet computers that makes it easy not only to find a grave, but also to create a digital memorial for the deceased. It is another way to help the people served by Catholic Cemeteries, which operates Cathedral, All Saints and Gate of Heaven in Sussex County.
“We used to have to direct people from memory or what we knew about the cemetery,” said Mark Christian, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries.
The agency has partnered with WebCemeteries.com to help visitors spend time with their loved ones instead of looking for them. The free app contains GPS navigation, a memory book, unlimited tributes and online access.
It was launched in March and is available for Droids and iPhones by searching “Wilmington Catholic cemeteries.”
Users who enter a person’s name are shown a satellite picture of the cemetery with a push pin marking the location of the grave or, in Cathedral Cemetery’s case, a photo of the headstone. They can upload photos and written tributes, and military service information. This can be forwarded to family and friends or printed.
“This becomes a digital memory bank for every person that’s buried in the cemetery,” Christian said.
Families that have stopped by the office at Cathedral looking for directions have appreciated the new technology.
“People are amazed, especially if they’ve visited Cathedral before because it’s always been so challenging to give the directions, that now I can print for them a drop-pin map that takes them directly to their location,” said Susan Murray, an administrative assistant for Catholic Cemeteries.
If visitors want to see several loved ones during one visit, they can enter the names of the deceased, and the app will generate a path for them.
“So if a family’s coming from a distance, they can build their own tour,” Murray said.
Using the app can enhance a family’s experience, said Nick Timpe, director of sales and marketing for WebCemeteries.com.
“From the gravesite, they can look at those same memories and photos that the family has shared about their loved ones. It really takes that physical monument and it brings it to life, telling the whole story about that person,” he said.
When a person’s name is entered, his or her birth and death dates are shown. That is often the beginning point for people who are working on family histories, according to Christian.
“It’s a great time saver for us,” he said. “Also on the weekends we’re not here, and sometimes that’s the only time families have to get out.”
The idea came about because Catholic Cemeteries has no paper maps for Cathedral. Timpe said after talking with Christian it became apparent that the company could take what it had done at other cemeteries and apply that to Cathedral.
“This would be the first cemetery that we had ever mapped with no paper maps,” Timpe said.
Currently, the three diocesan cemeteries are the only ones in Delaware using the app, but it could be expanded to include parish cemeteries fairly easily, Christian said.
Another idea is to create a tour of the cemeteries for prominent people buried at each one, he continued. For example, Cathedral Cemetery is home to American businessman and philanthropist John Raskob, baseball Hall of Fame umpire Bill McGowan, and Wilmington Police Officer Charles W. Schultz, who was shot and killed on duty in 1891 and whose death remains the longest unsolved murder of an officer east of the Mississippi River, Christian said.
One point Christian emphasized is there are several safeguards built into the system to prevent abuse or inappropriate material from being posted. All photographic and written memorials must include the name and contact information of the person submitting them, and the submissions are reviewed before they are posted. In addition, the staff will remove any deceased person from the database at the request of his or her family.