The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
Communicating in the cemeteries??? No, I am not referring to communications with or amongst the “long-term residents” of a cemetery. Instead, I'm writing about communications for visitors to a cemetery. Namely, the genealogists who visit a cemetery looking for information about deceased relatives.
When searching for tombstones of ancestors and other relatives, I generally try to visit a cemetery with a friend or two. We mentally divide the cemetery into sections, and then each person searches through his or her section alone. The other friends are doing the same in a different section. I have done this many times and suspect that you have, too. Having two or more people involved increases the enjoyment of the search as well as the safety of everyone involved.
There are disadvantages, however. Upon discovering a particular tombstone, you may have to shout to the other person to make them aware of your discovery. In a large cemetery, the other person(s) may be some distance away, making shouting impractical.
The need for communications may vary. Of course, you want to notify your friends if you find a tombstone for one of their relatives. However, there are many more serious needs for instant communications. If someone steps into a gopher hole and twists an ankle, he or she may not be able to walk for help. In some areas of the country, snakebite is a serious concern. Perhaps you want to ask everyone else a critical question, such as: “Does anyone else feel like taking a break and getting a burger?” Finally, a simple request for bug repellent could be serious in some situations. Whatever the need, you should have instant communications capabilities when you are in a cemetery and are separated from your friends.
There is no perfect communications solution that I know of. However, with a bit of advance planning, you can select the solution that works best for you. In fact, there are at least three solutions. Two of them are closely related. I will call them Solution #1, Solution #2a, and Solution #2b.
Solution #1 – Carry a Cell Phone
Probably the simplest and most effective solution in most cases is for everyone in “the hunt” to carry a cell phone. After all, cell phones are so common today that almost everyone owns one of these tiny communications devices. For many cemeteries, each person simply carries a cell phone, and you can call each other at any time. Indeed, if this works for you, I'd suggest you and your friends exchange phone numbers before visiting the cemetery.
The biggest disadvantage is that each cell phone user must be within range of a cell tower to work. If you are out of cell tower range, your cell phone becomes as useless as a brick; you can't even call anyone located 100 feet away. It would be more effective to yell at the other person. Cell phones can only talk through cell towers, not directly from one cell phone to another.
Most all urban areas have great coverage by cell phones. However, there are numerous exceptions, especially in rural areas..
Perhaps I should mention that cell phones don't work very well for many of the cemeteries where my ancestors are buried in rural cemeteries in northern Maine, far outside the range of cell towers. Sometimes, I think those ancestors planned it that way!
In one northern Maine hilltop cemetery where I have spent a lot of time, cell phones work well. However, if I drive down the hill to the next cemetery about a mile away, all cell phones display “no bars,” indicating no useable signal. Cell phones are useless in the valleys of that area. While there are a few hilltop cemeteries in Maine, it appears that the majority of cemeteries in the area are built alongside a river bank, typically the lowest point of elevation within miles! In short, the cemeteries you wish to investigate may or may nor be within cell phone range.
Another disadvantage is that cell phones are normally one-to-one communications. That is, if three, four, or more people are working together to investigate one cemetery, there is no easy method to call all of the others at the same time. Conference calls are theoretically possible, but not common when you only need to communicate for a few seconds, such as to ask, “Does anyone have bug repellent?”
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