Sunnyside Cemetery Grave Locating Project



To be able to generate a map of a burial a specialized tool needs to be used.  The original owner of the Find-a-Grave website invented a Crowd Sourced web tool that not only collects the GPS coordinates, a photo of the burial headstone, the cemetery plot data and much more.  This GPS & Photo step is done literally at the grave.  People who get to use the tool are considered Contributors.  

At Sunnyside, prior to 2021, Don Meehan had been volunteering for the Cemetery District helping with their website data management.  He realized how hard it is to find someone buried there unless the Cemetery Sexton or a groundskeeper was present.   He tried using maps of the different parts of the cemetery but found it very cumbersome.  As his frustration began to build he learned about the past work of Theresa Trebone regarding Find-a-Grave's burial location tool.  He experimented with it and loved the way it worked. 

At that time Don recruited neighbor Robert Elphick, who is a master at website development, to build this Geospatial technology into the Sunnyside website.   Then Don recruited Laura Foley, a mother with three kids who was already a seasoned Find-A-Grave Contributor and lived near Coupeville.  For months Laura and Don walked every section of the cemetery as contributors and mapped every grave that had a marker or headstone.  Sunnyside has roughly 3600 burials dating back to 1865.  Many exist with no marker.  During this time Don asked the Find-A-Grave owners if they would share their database of Sunnyside.  They were happy to and at that point Robert and Don were able to match up burials in their database with the ones in Sunnyside.

Today the collection of the data is done by the groundskeeper at the time of burial.  That is matched up with the Sexton's data for the burial plot the person was buried in.  Sunnyside uses the GPS coordinates in its website and the Memorial ID number to link to the Find-a-Grave website.  Sunnyside relies on the Find-a-Grave site for the pictures of headstones as well as obituaries and other things they provide.  To find someone in Sunnyside one only needs to access just the Sunnyside website burials look up list.  When a loved one is found on Sunnyside's site a link is on their page which links back to the Find-A-Grave site with pictures and more.

This effort to geospatially map graves in Sunnyside was purely a volunteer project benefiting the people of Island County.  This project was spearheaded by Don Meehan, professor Emeritus of Washington State University Extension in Island County.