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Ambitious graveyard project ‘looks a bit like Ghostbusters’

In a massive project dubbed “the Google Maps for graves,” some 19,000 churchyards across England will have their headstones digitally mapped.

The plan is to create a free online database that will help people research local history or learn more about their family tree. The collected information should also help to improve the overall management of such sites.

A person mapping a churchyard using a high-tech backpack.

Tim Viney of surveying consultancy Atlantic Geomatics, which is organizing the ambitious project, said each team will map the graveyards using a high-tech backpack equipped with laser scanners, cameras, and GPS technology. “It does look a bit like Ghostbusters,” Viney told The Times.

A team of 40 people has already started to scan the churchyards’ gravestones, gathering data such as burial plot locations, headstone photos, and inscriptions.

Viney said that creating the database means information linked to the churchyards will be protected forever from floods, fires, and theft.

While the bulk of the data will be available online for free, additional services will be offered via a subscription-based system.

Commenting on the endeavor, Andrew Rumsey, the Church of England’s lead bishop for church buildings, said: “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.”

Rumsey added: “For those researching at distance in the U.K. or overseas, the digital records will place detailed information from churchyards at their fingertips.”

Ancestral research and genealogy has grown in popularity in recent years. In the U.K., the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? — where celebrities trace their family history — regularly pulls in millions of viewers. An adaptation of the show has also appeared on U.S. television over the last decade, with NBC set to broadcast a new season in the near future.

It’s hoped the database of English churchyards will go online in spring 2022.

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