The city of Kilgore is turning to its neighbor for help digitizing records at its three municipal cemeteries.

Geographic information systems employees for the city of Longview are helping Kilgore build an online database for the thousands of graves and unused burial plots at Danville Cemetery, City Cemetery and Kilgore Memorial Gardens.

“Right now, if someone wants to find a loved one but don’t know where they were buried, they have to come here (to City Hall) and we have to go through files,” said Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck. “It’s a laborious process versus being able to click on a map of the cemetery.”

The database saves search time for families and city staff members, who need to know where plots are available for purchase.

“So long term, the benefits are once this data is all in a centralized location like that, it can become browse-able a lot easier,” Selleck said.

Danville Cemetery, which has several available burial plots and spaces, will be the first to have its records digitized, said Kilgore Parks and Facilities Manager Danny Downing.

“Then we’ll move out to Kilgore Memorial Gardens, and then we’ll come out to this one,” Downing said while standing at City Cemetery. “We will try to do some stuff... for people doing genealogy and stuff, and the more than we can get it set up, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The immediate need is helping staff find cemetery records faster than turning to file cabinets, city officials said.

The idea originated after the city of Kilgore planned a new section of Danville Cemetery, “and this year we had turnover in the position that is basically responsible for selling and organizing the lots out there,” Selleck said.

City administrators decided to use the training process for new staff – including administrative assistant Brittany Stuart who was hired this month – to update its technology, Selleck said. Kilgore reached out to Longview through its interlocal partnership to use Longview’s geographic information and information technology systems.

Longview staff “basically told us that it was a pretty easy implementation,” Selleck said.

Several cities large and small have come online and begun digitizing their local cemetery records. The Parks Department in Des Moines, Iowa, started adding more than 200,000 names from cemeteries in that city last summer, according to Channel 13 in Iowa.

Longview digitized records at its three city-owned cemeteries more than three years ago, said city database developer Dale Hawbaker.

The Longview database allows city staff to find available plots at Greenwood Cemetery, White Cemetery and Grace Hill Cemetery – all three owned and maintained by the city.

Hawbaker met with Downing for almost two weeks to prepare uploading city of Kilgore cemetery records online, though the city had done some similar work for Kilgore “some time back.” “A fair amount” of Kilgore’s records are already in the Longview database, Hawbaker said.

“Longview does some things pretty similar. We have a good idea of what we wanted to do....” Hawbaker said. “I think they’ve got to collect some data before they’re ready to share with the public, but that’s their call.

“Secretaries can go look at and find ... then verify which plots are available, because they may have some (plots) that have gotten used for other reasons, and it should help Kilgore as well,” Hawbaker said.

Jimmy Daniell Isaac covers the city of Longiew and Gregg County. Follow him on Twitter: @jimmyisaaclives.