Database will help eliminate twists, turns in trying to find plots at Williamstown cemeteries

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Time was, finding the resting place of a deceased friend or family member at one of the three town cemeteries would entail some significant sleuthing.

The process would begin with a visit to the public works building, where records were kept on index cards in a fireproof file cabinet.

"There are thousands of them," said Terry Haig, office manager at the Williamstown Department of Public Works. "There was no index, so it wasn't easy to find the right information, and sometimes it isn't in the cards. Then they would have to check the gravesite deeds at the Parks and Cemetery Department."

But now, thanks to a $20,000 Community Compact IT grant, all that information is stored on a database accessible to anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Residents can search for a name though the new tool on the town's website, which uses GPS technology to pinpoint the location of the gravesite.

Haig said technicians from contractor WebCemeteries came in and manually scanned each card over about two days. They also scanned in the deeds. Then they went back to their offices and manually input all the data into their computer system. The whole project took about 18 months.

"They were tasked with finding all the disjointed information and pulling it all together," said Town Manager Jason Hoch. "Then they were to take all that material and stitch it all together into our system."

Aside from ease of use, the system also provides a way to store all that information online, essentially backing up files that had been solely available on paper hard copies. If, for some reason, those records had been lost, they would have been lost forever.

Town Clerk Mary Kennedy said the town gets about 10 to 15 inquiries a year from family members, friends, historians and genealogy researchers. Now, she said, it's a simple matter of logging on to the town website.

There will be other features added to the tool as time goes on, Haig noted, including the ability to add stories and photos about the deceased to their gravesite records. And any glitches or blank spaces will be fixed as they are identified.

"It's not used a lot, but it is all valuable information," Kennedy said. "And now it is easily available to a wider range of people. It's a really great asset."

The tool allows users to search by name and/or date of birth or death. The records stretch back nearly to 1765, the year Williamstown was incorporated.

"It's fun to go through," Haig said. "I like to go dig through the records; I always find something interesting."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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