Cemetery Update Services

Seek And Ye Shall Find With New Cemetery Map


As printed in the July 31, 2006 edition of the Barnesville Record-Review - by: Pam Aakre

Debbie Wiczek demonstrates a trick of the trade. When erosion has worn engraving on the headstone, it is difficult for the naked eye to make out the information. By spreading shaving cream with a squeegee, the letters and numbers become easily distinguishable.

There are many ways to earn an income. Occupations range from astronaut to zoologist and everything in between. Some professions are common, like a farmer, teacher, doctor, businessman, lawyer, or even a journalist, while other types of employment may be considered a little out of the ordinary.

One rather unique means of livelihood is the mapping of cemeteries. But that is what Debbie and Mike Wiczek have done for the past 16 years. During this time, the Winona, MN couple have been contracted to map hundreds of cemeteries throughout the United States and recently completed mapping City Cemetery in Barnesville.

The Barnesville City Cemetery Association Board of Directors contracted with Debbie Wiczek, owner of Cemetery Updating Services, to map the cemetery and provide a user friendly database enabling a quick, efficient and easy way to locate the graves of loved ones.

Cemetery Map Services

The need for the Barnesville City Cemetery to be mapped became apparent about a year ago when a family was about to bury their father. When the day of the interment arrived, the family gathered at the cemetery.

Unfortunately, because no one was able to, with clarity, judge whether the intended burial spot was indeed available, the family was unable to proceed with the service.

As it happened, the cemetery sexton, who has possession of the most current map, was out of town and the funeral director was from out of town and not familiar with the local cemetery.

All did turn out well in the end as the lot was open for burial. But the family was rightfully very distressed, inconvenienced and forced to return another day for the burial service.

"The three-ring binder I will provide the cemetery board after I am through, will allow easy access to locate the grave of a specific person, see which lots are purchased and those that are still available," says Wiczek. "It's all about penning, pinning, placing and proofing," says Debbie. "Penning is taking the information from the head stone, like the name, date of birth, date of death, and comparing it with the data given by the cemetery board. Pinning is measuring the lot. In Barnesville's case, it's every five feet."

She continues to explain, "Placing is when we take a long string that has evenly placed flags tied to it and recording the actual placement of the graves within the lot. We even record it on the map when there is no stone, but it looks like a burial. It's our job to make the map of the cemetery and its records as accurate as possible. That's where the proofing comes in. We're constantly checking and re-checking the information as it is recorded and entered into the computer. We do the best job that we can to provide an accurate map and record of the cemetery."

Mike and Debbie Wiczek use simple equipment to map cemeteries. Paper attached to a clipboard to record information, long string with evenly spaced flags to measure lots and a probe to check for burials that are not marked. Debbie admits it is a long, tedious process. "You really need to be mind set and remain focused, especially when the bugs begin to squirm, the sun is scorching down on you and your back begins to ache. It may not seem like it, but this job is physically gruelling."

On the other side of the tombstone is the peace and nature's beauty that cemeteries provide. "And we always meet really nice people wherever we go," says Debbie. "The people of Barnesville have been so welcoming, bringing us cookies and stopping by for a visit." Board member Sharon Ellefson and husband Arnie offered the use of their travel trailer to the Wiczeks during their stay. "We don't make a habit of camping on cemetery grounds. We've only done it one other time. This time there is so much construction going on in the area that hotels and motels are all booked so staying in a trailer is our only option." Debbie says.

Debbie's husband Mike teams up with her and assists in the project when his home construction business allows. On this particular project, Mike met Debbie in Barnesville after he completed his work in Bemidji.

The Wiczeks arrived at the cemetery on July 18 and began working the next morning. Because the couple has put in a couple of long days, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m, and their son was able to come to Barnesville to help a bit, they were able to accomplish the task at hand in about two weeks. Debbie estimates they have been able to complete, on average, 200 graves per day. The Wiczeks agree that the City Cemetery is laid out well. "A few times we've run into a spot where it looks like there may be a burial, but the grave is not marked. I use my probe to see if I can hear if anything is buried below," says Mike.

Even though the people who currently reside in cemeteries are unable to speak, the imprints etched in the tombstone and records do tell a tale. "We've unveiled lots of tragic stories," Mike acknowledges. He recalls looking through records from a cemetery near Duluth, MN that says a fire wiped out four families on the same day.

"Another time, we saw where all the children in one family died as a result of cholera or diphtheria. This was before penicillin was discovered," Mike said. Debbie adds, "The Mom didn't get sick, but ended up committing suicide months later."

Mike thinks of another story. "While mapping a cemetery in Walker, MN, we could see whenever a severe cold and flu season went through because many of the elderly people living in the nursing home died."

Cemetery Updating Services has been contracted to map cemeteries that have included some notable people, including Sinclair Lewis at Sauk Center, MN and Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane at Deadwood, SD.

"Also buried in that cemetery," says Debbie, "is a lady named Dora Dufran. She was a noted brothel owner in the Black Hills. Anyway, the comment in the record book stated Dora was buried with her pet parrot, Fred. Parrots are such noisy birds and I'm thinking that Fred died an untimely death because no one probably appreciated him like Dora did. Thinking of that story has made me laugh more than once."

From Vermont to Washington, Minnesota to Arizona, the Wiczeks have traveled all across the United States providing their one of a kind service. "We probably map about 10 cemeteries per year," Debbie figures.

The furthest request has come from Zimbabwe, Africa. They also have had requests for their services in Mexico and Canada. "We have confined our activity to the U.S.," says Debbie.

Cemetery Updating Services creates a map of the cemetery. An overall map, which is divided into numbered sections, shows the cemetery as a whole. Smaller maps, with corresponding section numbers, indicate the lot number of the deceased, lots that are sold but not used and lots that are still available for purchase.

All of the data is cross-referenced and organized alphabetically by name, numerically by location, chronologically by date of death. Included in the three-ring binder is an alphabetical and numerical list of lot owners, as well as veterans.

Once the on-site visit is complete, Debbie makes corrections to the records and maps. Then, the book and maps are reprinted and everything is returned to the cemetery board. Extra pages are already in place so additional names can be added when the time comes.

Cemetery Updating Services archives all of its records so they can be reprinted on demand. "I also provide the cemetery a compact disc of all interment records and maps. The program we use is user friendly. That way, they can update the records themselves if they have the computer capability and so choose. Otherwise, I can do it too."says Debbie.

"This is a continual record-keeping process," Mike adds.

Debbie began Cemetery Updating Services after she visited a cemetery in search of the grave of her friend's father. Staff at the cemetery office was able to locate the record after a 30-minute wait and handed her a bad photocopy of a very poor map. Despite these circumstances, Debbie and her friend were able to find the grave.

She then stopped back at the office and handed them her business card. At the time, she was operating her own drafting/design business for the home construction industry. She let them know that she could help them with their maps. Later that week, the cemetery called her to do just that and a new business venture for Debbie was born.

Anyone who would like more information about Cemetery Updating Services can log on to www.cemeteryrecordservices.com or call Wiczek at (507) 453-0811. Cost is based on the number of graves within the cemetery. The cost to have this service completed at City Cemetery is between $10,000 to $11,000. Thanks to Cemetery Updating Services, it will be a lot easier and quicker for family members to locate the graves of loved ones who are resting in City Cemetery.

Barnesville Record Review - As printed in the July 31, 2006 edition of the Barnesville Record-Review

By: Pam Aakre

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