Cincinnati State students combine GIS and surveying to map an aging cemetery.

Cincinnati State Technical and Community College is committed to experiential learning, from the instruction in hands-on labs to a required cooperative education component in the curriculum. We find that the students thrive on this type of learning. We also try to give our students skills, experience and application they may take with them to their employers. Every surveying graduate must complete a field project course. A typical student will have had four or maybe five co-op terms working for a local surveying firm prior to taking this project class (equivalent to nearly one calendar year). Most will have already acquired good skills in field procedures for traversing, topography and layout as well as office experience for mapping.

Each year Jim Decker and I, the surveying instructors at Cincinnati State, choose a capstone project that allows the students to apply their learning to an actual situation as part of their field project experience. The course requires the students to resolve a boundary, write a legal description and prepare a plat as well as a map of the site. This year, the second-year surveying students were given the challenge to map an old cemetery.

A Resting Place in Decline

The Wesleyan Cemetery is located about one mile from campus. The cemetery dates back to the early 1800s. Some of those buried there were alive during the Revolutionary War. There are a significant number of veterans from every war including the Civil War, WWI and WWII. There is also some history of caretaker problems. Many families have loved ones whose records are lost, and some sections have burials whose locations are uncertain. State law requires the county recorder to keep cemetery records and the county commissioner has asked us to help map the cemetery so that efforts to better manage it will have a solid foundation. With this background in mind we planned this year’s project.

Operation Cemetery Rehab
Assignment 1: Control

We started the project by running control from the Hamilton County NAD83 benchmark network using conventional surveying techniques with two Topcon GTS 313s, a GTS 303 and a GTS 229 with HP data collectors (Topcon, Pleasanton, Calif.). We also used a Trimble 4600 (Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif.) GPS receiver and a Criterion laser range finder (Laser Technology Inc., Englewood, Colo.). This traverse was calculated and adjusted in Ohio South Zone State Plane Coordinates. We require the students to run three-wire levels to determine elevations of the traverse. They then created a spreadsheet for scale and elevation factors (and combined factors) to project the traverse to the mapping surface SPC system.

Assignment 2: Locating the Boundaries

Next, the students began to work on the boundary locations. We divided up into teams and local County Recorder Rebecca Prem-Groppe and her staff helped the students research the deeds, plats, surveys and other records available. Once the information was gathered, they created a graphical abstract of the information and began their fieldwork. They searched for boundary monuments and other evidence of occupation. The location data was collected. The students, working in small teams, worked to resolve the boundary using the information they had gathered. They were then required to write a surveyor’s report to explain their decisions. A legal description was drafted and stakeout information calculated, although no monuments were set.

Student Lee Owens prepares to survey the cemetery grounds.

Assignment 3: Data Collection

Then the main task of the term began. The students began to collect data from the headstones and directories: names, date of birth and death, whether the deceased was a veteran or not, and if so of what war. After experimenting with various techniques, this group determined it was easier and more reliable to write the data in field books and transfer it to the spreadsheet by point numbers. We collected digital camera pictures of the headstones that we linked to the point location in the spreadsheet.

The collected topography data was linked to an Autodesk AutoCAD Land Development Desktop map. Title blocks and other mapping information were drawn.

The drawing was then exported out of LDD and imported into GIS software, specifically, ESRI ArcView 3.1 (Redlands, Calif.). This work was completed in nine Saturday classes. The classes last six hours, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Left to right: Tom Lake, Lee Owens, George Armstrong and Tony Mraz run a GPS session at the cemetery.

Perpetuating the Project

Another group of second year students will continue this project in the spring term. Because of the learning requirements, they will redo the boundary resolution and State Plane Coordinate reduction work. This group will then continue to map several other sections of the cemetery and further utilize the GIS software capabilities. The goal is to get the work posted to the County Recorder’s website to provide descendents of those buried in the Wesleyan Cemetery an opportunity to find their loved ones, while giving Cincinnati State surveying students an opportunity to apply in the field what they have learned in the classroom.