Tombstone Rubbings in the Information Age


A version of this article first appeared in the September/October 1998 issue of Ancestry Magazine


By Mark Howells


Author's note: Since this article was first written, it appears that View•logy is no longer on the market. However, there are a few similar products on the market today. See Memory Medallion and Vidstone.com

What do you want on your tombstone?

Grave markers have always been a traditional source of genealogical information. The names and dates of our ancestors have been inscribed in the stones of churchyards and cemeteries for hundreds of years now. Most family historians have their favorite stories about researching in cemeteries - the odd looks from passers-by, the grave that couldn't be found until we looked in the very last place, the cemetery which had an overabundance of fauna concealed amongst the flora.

[Image of granite marker with View•logy installed]

Example of a granite marker with View•logy installed.
Shown with View•logy cover closed.

As legitimate frequenters of cemeteries, the genealogical community has developed a specialized area of interest which concerns itself with grave site studies. There is genealogical literature on how best to record the monumental inscriptions in a cemetery, how to map out cemeteries, and how to index cemetery transcriptions. Family historians trade tips for cleaning tombstones in order to improve their legibility and on how best to preserve tombstones. We even share techniques on how to make tombstone rubbings using charcoal or crayons on paper when photographs alone won't do justice to the stone carver's art.

Grave markers are no more immune from technical change than so many of our other traditional sources for genealogical research. This article will review a new grave site product which combines computer technology with traditional tombstones. The resulting grave markers are both very interesting to family historians as an information source and may provide an answer to the perennial question of "What should we do with the results of our genealogy research in order to preserve them for posterity?"

Who gets your genealogy research once you're gone?

All family historians must face a decision about where the fruits of their efforts go once they've "completed their research". Hopefully, we all have that one family member of a younger generation who shares our interest in the family's heritage and is an eager recipient of our genealogical information. To improve the chances that the results of your research don't get lost to the family, distributing a published or self-produced Family History to as many family members as possible is always a good idea.

Unfortunately, information on a family's history tends to get lost over time. In our mobile society, siblings move apart and children move across continents or oceans - the Family History does not always make the trip with them. Divorce may cause the former in-law to wind up with the Family History or family members unfamiliar with the importance of our research may make tragic recycling decisions. Due to this tendency for the Family History to disappear, it is often the case that once the researcher is gone, so is their research. This means that to a genealogist, the cliché "you can't take it with you" doesn't refer to money but to something of much more value.

Maybe you CAN take it with you

A new grave site product lends itself to addressing the problem of where to keep family research for posterity. View•logy (pronounced as 'eulogy' with preceding 'v' - clever, eh?) is a computerized information storage and display device designed for mounting in granite tombstones, bronze memorial markers, or cremation urns. Developed by Leif Technologies of Lebanon, Ohio (on the Internet at http://www.leif.com or phone (513) 932-1108), View•logy is the only product of its kind. View•logy's primary purpose is to provide more information (of any type) on a grave marker than merely the traditional names and dates.

[Image of granite marker with View•logy installed - cover open]

Example of a granite marker with View•logy installed.
Shown with View•logy cover open.

So much of what goes into a burial winds up under the ground that the inventor of View•logy thought it a pity that more wasn't done "above ground" to commemorate the deceased. The device stores up to 1 megabyte of data (equivalent to approximately 75 typewritten sheets of paper) and displays this stored information on a reflective Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screen such as those found on wristwatches. Installed View•logy units have been used to commemorate the deceased with written biographies, photographs & other images, favorite poetry, the reminiscences of friends and family, or statements of personal philosophy.

[Image of View•logy screen display]

Sample View•logy screen display.

Clearly View•logy provides the opportunity to put much more than the deceased's name, date of birth, and death date on a grave marker. Genealogical information especially lends itself to being stored in a View•logy-equipped grave marker. Some of us are lucky enough to have found traditional tombstones which give some genealogical information (beloved wife of..., son of..., etc.) but rarely do grave markers provide more than a single additional generation of family information. Imagine a grave maker that can provide detailed family history information of the deceased! This preservation of genealogical information was not lost on the developers of View•logy and they suggest the perpetuation of family history information as one reason for using their product.

[Image of View•logy screen display showing a simple family tree]

Sample View•logy screen display showing a simple family tree.

What's buried inside?

The View•logy unit is based on a programmable microprocessor and uses memory chips rather than a disk drive to store its information. The information to be displayed is first provided by the customer to Leif Technologies. The information is then typed or scanned into a View•logy unit customized for the individual to be memorialized. The individual's family also receives a printed version of the information place into View•logy. Leif Technologies stores a copy of the information on CD-ROM discs as well. Information in the installed View•logy unit may be updated up to three additional times to provide for the memorialization of multiple individuals interred later in a family plot.

The grave site visitor need only lift the unit's protective cover to begin the continuously looping information display. There are no other moving parts (other than the hinged cover) in order to reduce the likelihood of device failure over the course of time.

As anyone who has taken a notebook computer into a cemetery knows, a graveyard can be a challenging place for a computer. There are usually no electric power outlets available so batteries are required. Besides the odd "ghost in the machine", physical conditions in a cemetery such as sun, rain, dirt, and snow can have an adverse effect on a computer's operation. In addition to these standard perils, View•logy products must also withstand the ravages of time in a cemetery environment. The units themselves are encased in a double box of stainless steel which is specially sealed to protect the unit. A temperature sensor prevents the unit from activating if the external temperature is too far below freezing that activation might damage the LCD screen.

View•logy's built-in battery life is estimated at 7 to 10 years - hardly any time at all in the life expectancy of a grave marker. The built-in battery can be replaced in the View•logy unit. In addition, View•logy is equipped with external 9-volt battery terminals so that when the built-in batteries expire, a grave site visitor can power View•logy externally by connecting an external battery to the unit. With the exception of the built-in battery, View•logy units are designed to remain operational for at least several centuries assuming either internal or external batteries are available to supply power. Perhaps family historians will now have to add 9-volt batteries to their list of supplies to take on a cemetery visit along with brushes, clippers, and camera!

It may be noted that the above description of View•logy did not mention how a grave site visitor may record the information displayed by the View•logy unit. Family historians will, of course, want to transcribe the information provided by any grave marker and View•logy-equipped tombstones are no exception. To address this need, Leif Technologies is introducing an additional product called the In•Memory Remembrance Plaque. These Plaques can store the same information as the View•logy units but have no display screen. The information stored on the In•Memory Plaque is accessed by connecting the visitor's portable computer to the Plaque's connection terminals and downloading the information onto the visitor's computer for display and recording. This download feature appears to be the tombstone rubbings of the future!

"And I bequeath all my genealogical research to..."

Leif Technology's View•logy product has some interesting implications for family historians. We need to be aware that traditional sources of genealogical information such as grave markers are changing to provide more information about the deceased. Family historians should also recognize that there is now an additional option for preserving our own genealogical research. While View•logy is not specifically designed with genealogy in mind, any genealogical information can be manually typed or scanned in. Because View•logy is not a genealogy-specific product, it does not automatically accept data from GEDCOM files. Also for many of us, one megabyte of data storage would not be enough capacity to hold our most essential genealogical information.

Even so, View•logy is an interesting genealogical tool. It provides us with the ability to record our family history information on a device which resides in a logical place. The one place to which other family members naturally return in order to commemorate their ancestors. View•logy provides a very good answer to the question of where to store the end result of our genealogical labors - right where our surviving descendants and family members would be expecting to find us. With View•logy, family historians can truly "Rest In Peace" assured that their research remains available to posterity.



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Tombstone Rubbings in the Information Age
Created & maintained by Mark Howells.
For information about this article, please send email to markhow@oz.net
Updated September 10, 2005

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