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