Elin Warwick has always appreciated the quiet dignity of the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen. But when she found out through her father that families were having a difficult time finding their loved ones’ graves, she knew she could help.
Warwick had access to a critical resource – her father works at Esri, a geographic information system company whose app is used by Bow High School to teach geography. Using the program, Warwick, a senior at Bow, set out to mark the location of each grave and upload it to a computer installed in the cemetery’s welcome center.
When the project is finished, visitors will be able to find the exact location of the grave on a map and how to get to it, as well as an image of the grave and information about the person buried there.
It’s a system similar to the one Arlington National Cemetery uses, and will be more accessible to guests, Warwick said. The cemetery’s current system allows you to type a name in and it will display that person’s interment date, date of death and give a description of where the grave is located. Visitors also have an option of printing out a paper map.
It’s a system Warwick feels is clunky, and something veterans’ families shouldn’t have to navigate.
“I want to know that people are being taken care of,” Warwick said. “With the technology we have, it shouldn’t be a worry of military families that they can’t find the grave of their loved ones. With the technology we have, I knew it would be a simple solution to a complex problem – it would have been ridiculous to not do it.”
It’s a project two years in the making, and while Warwick intended the task to serve as her senior project, she feels it’s become bigger than her. She remembers one Vietnam veteran, who was volunteering his time to help map the graves, asking to be excused one day to visit his wife. But as Warwick was leaving the cemetery, she saw the veteran paying respects to a grave where she believes his wife is buried.
“That was a big wake-up call for me,” she said. “It was a moment when I realized I wasn’t just impacting the community, but individuals’ lives.”
Warwick first had to get permission from the cemetery’s director Mike Horne and the New Hampshire National Guard. From there, she set out to map the cemetery’s roughly 9,000 graves, a feat she pulled off with the help of numerous volunteers, including the New Hampshire chapter of Rolling Thunder Inc., a nonprofit veterans group that advocates for veterans’ issues. She said there are still a few hundred graves left to map – efforts were paused due to recent snowfall – but the majority of the information was collected despite sweltering heat or freezing cold temperatures.
“When other kids were going to the beach during the summer, I would go to the cemetery and set aside time for that,” Warwick said.
Tablets loaned to Warwick from Bow High School that utilized the GIS app helped make collecting the information for her project possible. A person looking to mark a gravestone would take a picture of the image; at the same time, the app would note the coordinates of the grave. That information went into a database, which Warwick, working with trained GIS users, would then link to the name of the person who was buried in that particular spot.
They then created a live website that, once all the information is collected, will be accessible through a kiosk in the cemetery’s welcome center. Warwick said it was quite a task – one that could not be accurately summed up in her senior seminar last week.
“I just wish I could fully show all the hours that went into this, and all the volunteer work,” she said. The end product was made to look easy, she said, but the effort that went into it at times seemed insurmountable.
But it’s one that many think will be appreciated at the cemetery. Sue Belliveau works at the cemetery and also helped collect information for the project. She’s seen people wander off countless times in the wrong direction looking for a grave and knows people can get lost if the staff isn’t available on the weekends.
“It’s a confusing place if you don’t know the layout of the different sections,” she said. “I think it will help a lot.”
And Horne, the cemetery’s director, said he didn’t know of any state cemetery that had a similar system in place, aside from Arlington.
“It will be another piece of what makes the cemetery so special,” he said.
Warwick hopes to someday see a mobile app created for the cemetery so that visitors can be taken directly to the grave they are looking for. She also thinks it would be interesting to use LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, remote sensing technology to create 3-D visuals of the graves.
But that’s for another student to take on, she said. She’s content with her accomplishment, which also includes an effort to introduce a GIS class at Bow. In the fall, she’s hoping to continue her education in broadcast media and communications.
“There’s still some work that has to be done,” she said. “But I’ve had a lot of fun, and learned a lot about setting goals and staying true to your deadlines. And knowing the kind of legacy and impact I’ve left behind, at the school, and the cemetery, that’s huge.”
(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, email@example.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)