Oaks wants better cemetery records
by Rick DeClue · News · September 13, 2013

The West Branch City Council will consider investing in a searchable, Internet-based cemetery records system.

The council wants easier access to cemetery records for residents, families and genealogists.

Led by council member Jim Oaks, several council members want an updated system. Most of the city’s written records have been converted to electronic files, with the notable exception being deeds for plots. These records are not very searchable and they are difficult to customize, Oaks said.

Currently, the city takes phone, fax or e-mail requests for information. Staff works individually with each inquiry. Council members, especially Oaks, said residents approach them for help in locating records or particular gravesites.

Oaks’ special interest in the cemetery records goes back to his days as head of the city’s public works department. He set up the city’s first, perhaps unofficial, database on a home computer many years ago.

At the Sept. 3 meeting, City Administrator Matt Muckler and Assistant City Clerk Dawn Brandt provided an overview of one proposal from Ramaker & Associates, Inc. of Sauk City, Wis., that showed the system’s mapping, data and search capabilities.

Individual records can be accessed by clicking on a particular site or by name. All maps, data and images can be printed.

During the meeting, Muckler logged on to Iowa City’s cemetery records to click on some maps and show the type of information that can be made available. Iowa City recently completed their installation of the Ramaker system at a cost of approximately $30,000.

Ramaker’s August 2013 proposal for West Branch shows a cost of $18,000 to $23,000. The higher cost comes if the city’s current files are incompatible with the new program and have to be manipulated or entered manually.

Annual licensing and maintenance, including quarterly record updates, total an additional $1,600-1,900 per year.

A second proposal from Legacy Mark, a Pennsylvania company, was received just prior to the meeting. Though the Legacy Mark’s cost was somewhat lower, staff had not had time to compare the two proposals.

The Ramaker system starts with the mapping process, which includes the status of each plot, such as “available,” “sold,” “sold with internment” and “markers.”

Other information can include dates of birth and death, type of burial, church, funeral home records, contacts (other than owners), family relationships, obituaries, care funds, special instructions, veteran status and pictures. Written deeds are scanned in, which provide an electronic backup to city files.

Donna L. Cooper, a Des Moines-based genealogist with 30 years of experience, said she finds information systems such as those being considered by West Branch to be extremely helpful.

She recently completed a search for an extensive family history that included records in Illinois, Missouri, and Nebraska in the U.S. all the way to Ireland before the family immigrated. She said that good, searchable databases can make her much more efficient and productive, no matter how much or how little information her client provides as a starting point.

She was very excited to hear of the steps West Branch may pursue, and asked to be informed when the system is available.

Muckler will bring a comparison of the two proposals in hand back to council at its next meeting.

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