- plot those coordinates on a map of the area, or
- input the coordinates into a GPS (Global Positioning System) instrument to obtain real-time instructions on how to drive directly to the cemetery.
What is GPS?
The Global Positioning System or GPS is a worldwide navigation system consisting of 24 satellites placed into orbit by the U.S. Department of Defense, along with their corresponding ground stations. GPS works in all weather conditions, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day. There are no fees to use GPS, outside of the cost of a GPS receiver.
How GPS Works
GPS satellites circle the earth twice a day in a very precise orbit, transmitting signal information to earth. GPS receivers lock onto the signal of at least three satellites and then use triangulation to calculate the user's exact position - usually accurate to within 10-15 meters on most inexpensive consumer GPS devices. Most GPS receivers update about once per second.
Using GPS to Locate a Cemetery
GPS receivers can be purchased for less than $100 and make extremely handy tools for genealogists who enjoy hunting for cemeteries, ghost towns, and other historic places. To locate a cemetery, simply enter the coordinates (usually in degrees/minutes/seconds, though most GPS units will also read Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinates) into a GPS device. Lower-end GPS models will use a compass needle to point you in the right direction, in addition to providing your bearing, current speed, and the distance to your current destination. Higher-end GPS devices also include street maps.
Since GPS makes actually finding cemeteries an easy process, the biggest hurdle is determining which unnamed cemeteries might contain your ancestors. For example, I actually happened across this CRISP family cemetery the old fashioned way (by stopping and walking across a cornfield to investigate) several years ago on a trip with my Mom, but I could have also located it by investigating the half dozen cemeteries displayed on Topozone.com in the area surrounding the community of Crisp, NC, where my ancestors lived. Further research would have also revealed that my CRISP ancestors actually at one point owned the land upon which the cemetery is located.
Visiting the Cemetery
Once you've identified the GPS coordinates for the cemeteries you want to visit, it is time to plan for your cemetery visits and prepare accordingly. Be sure to make note of each cemetery's name (if it has one) and at least a sampling of the surnames of the people buried there. If you have time and the cemetery isn't too large, then consider transcribing the cemetery, and posting it to the Internet for the use of other genealogists. Just be sure to make note of the GPS coordinates and other pertinent data so others can find the cemetery more easily than you!