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October 31, 2018

The National Map Corps encourages and leverages volunteer citizen scientists to update structure data to The National Map. To reward, recognize and motivate these participants, the program awards “virtual” badges for increasing levels of edits and submission.

The program has had a select few crowd sourced citizen scientists who have exceeded the top award. To highlight those who have had a major project impact, TNM Corps has interviewed interested participants to get their story. Here is one that might fit the Halloween spirit. In the volunteers own words, from the handle “Cgibson”, here is her story:

Picture of a citizen science volunteer dressed as a ghost
The "ghost" of "cgibson" poses near a headstone, with an invitation to join her in mapping the nation.(Public domain.)

For some people, cemeteries are sad records of death. For me, they tell fascinating stories about our ancestors. I’ve always enjoyed wandering through these peaceful places, reading the inscriptions on the stones and wondering about the lives of the people who rest there. No spooks or ghouls to be seen, just a feeling that I can reach out and touch the past.

My favorite headstone commemorates an 18th-century Massachusetts lady who seemed to like variety in her life. She was married eight (yes, eight!) times, and each husband is listed on her stone. The inscription implies that, at the time of her death at age 94, she was looking around for husband #9….

I am a geologist and GIS specialist, and joined The National Map Corps because I love maps and wanted an opportunity to practice using some of the online mapping tools available for mobile devices. I wasn’t really thinking about focusing on historic cemeteries when I joined the TNMCorps, but there are several within walking distance of my house.

As a beginning editor, I figured I’d get started by checking those out. In the 1600s - 1800s here in New England, people weren’t always buried in formal cemeteries. Many European settlers were laid to rest on their family farms, in small plots with only a few headstones.

 Over the years, these properties were sold to different families and farmland changed to woodlands. Roads were abandoned or rerouted, stranding many small cemeteries in areas without easy access today and making them difficult or impossible to locate using aerial imagery.

My check of the cemeteries in my neighborhood showed that some of their information and geographic positions needed to be updated on the TNMCorps editor, which made me think that other cemeteries might need field verification as well. Volunteer Spotlight:

Friend: “So, are you doing anything fun this weekend?” Me: “Yes! I’m going to check out a few cemeteries!” Friend: “Um....right. Are you ok? Because, you know, I’m always here for you.....”

End of story…or is it?

More on The National Map Corps: TNMCorps is an online crowdsourcing mapping project with volunteers successfully editing structures in all 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As part of The National Map, structures include schools, hospitals, post offices, police stations, cemeteries, and other important public buildings.

By updating and verifying structures data, volunteers are making significant contributions to USGS National Structures Database, The National Map, and ultimately U.S. Topo Maps!

Anyone with an interest in contributing can volunteer. It is easy to sign up and get started! All you need is access to the internet, an email address, and a willingness to learn. “How to” documentation including a comprehensive User Guide and a Quick Start Guide will have you up and editing quickly. Begin editing in your own hometown or anywhere in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Volunteers earn virtual badges for participating and are recognized for their contributions (with permission) via USGS and National Map social media. So, if you like maps, consider joining and contributing today!

Status map of The National Map Corps edited points
Status map of submitted and editted structure points, as of September 30, 2018.  (Public domain.)