AUBURN — City officials hope a student-aided survey Wednesday of the Oak Hill Cemetery will grow into a digital database of city graves and gravestones.

“Cities are required to maintain their cemeteries, and almost everyone has need to inventory and map what they have,” said Rosemary Mosher, Auburn’s geographic information systems manager. “But it’s difficult, given city budgets and those constraints. If you put it in a line-item priority list, it tends to drop down and get forgotten.”

Auburn Middle School students will help the city survey and count graves in the northern section of the Oak Hill Cemetery, just off River Road south of Auburn.

Mosher said the students will use pen and paper and their school iPads to find graves in the city’s system. The city is providing portable Wi-Fi hot spots to give the students Internet access, meaning they’ll be able to pull up the city’s grave-marker database, click on individual grave sites, evaluate their condition and link them to photographs.

“They’re going to look at who is buried in those plots and if they were war veterans,” Mosher said. “The teachers are interested in the style of stones, so they will inventory that. But we are interested in the condition of the stones, so we can find out what needs to be done.”

If it’s a success Wednesday, Mosher said, the city hopes to survey the rest of Oak Hill Cemetery and do a similar census at all of the city-maintained cemeteries in Auburn.

“We’ll try to spread to all of them, working with various groups,” she said. “If we can do it, for example, we’d work with veterans groups or Boy Scouts.”

Auburn has 33 cemeteries and 17 are maintained by the city. Oak Hill is one of the larger, with more than 7,000 plots.

“We can put the whole website up so people can look at and see, for example, where their grandmother is buried,” Mosher said.

She hopes to make the students’ work public on the Internet as early as next spring. It will be a big bonus for historians and people researching their family trees.

“Assuming it goes well, there are many ways we can use the same technology for a lot of different things,” Mosher said. “There are a lot of important things, but not the least of which is this: Heritage is important.”

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