The use of Ariel Photography in documenting the size, number of graves, location of gravestones or even the existence of a cemetery is a seldom used method that can provide some amazing results. Here are some suggestions for obtaining and working with aerials...

First, use USGS or one of the online locators to get an approximate longitude/latitude for the area you are interested in. This will make the person who finally helps you have a much easier time in telling you what is available.

Half the time if you call the county their "information" desk won't have a clue what you are talking about. When you call ask for someone in the Engineering Department; if they can't get you pointed in the right direction ask them for the Public Works, Highway Division or someone in Building. Depending on how your county is set up, one of those places is going to have the aerial photographs. (In Pinellas Co FL it was Public Works section of Engineering).

Once you've finally tracked down the right department, ask them how many sets of maps they keep and what the dates on those sets. This can be VERY helpful if you are trying to locate a "lost" or overgrown cemetery. It may not show up on a 2000-2002 aerial, but if your county keeps dated sets, you may want the OLDEST set they have--your target may not have been overgrown then.

By looking at a series of aerial photos taken over a 20-30 year span of the same area, starting with the oldest and progressing to the newest, you might also see how someone else has encroached onto a cemetery or even devoured one either by slow encroachment or a "permitted" building project. In most cases you should be allowed to view the available maps and pick out any or all you wish to have copies made of. The copies are NOT that expensive to obtain--the high cost was in the original which your tax dollars already paid for.

Another hint that might come in handy is if some major project has been built in an area where you believe they may have removed or disturbed a cemetery, or is in the planning stages of being built, ask if it is possible to see the county permit submittals for the project (not the permit itself, but the information that was submitted to OBTAIN the permit for the project). In most states, these documents are public records and though the worker might be unwilling to show you the file, you often have the legal right to see it. Ask for a supervisor if your state law says you have a right to view public records and you are refused.

In most states they are also required to allow you copies of said plans or portions thereof for a nominal copying fee. These plans as submitted by the project engineer almost always contain an aerial photograph and design drawings providing information sometimes not provided to the public regarding the project (like that their parking lot is going to cover the old county poor house burial ground...)

One more quick tip on aerials--sometimes counties "purge" their extra copies and donate these sets to libraries. Check with the local history section of your public library--they may just have some dusty old books or rolls of old aerials stuffed away in a corner.

Acknowledgments: The above information provided by Susie Martin-Rott and published on the Old Bones CEMETERY-L Mailing List

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