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Historic Graves

Published onAug 03, 2020
Historic Graves

Historic Graves website home page


At the moment, three archaeologists are supporting the project: John Tierney, project leader; Maurizio Toscano, website and data manager; and Jacinta Kiely, content editor. Since the early design stage, various other people have had an input into the development of the project and the associated website, including Finn Delaney and Robin Turk, both of Eachtra. Bernie Goldbach, Senior Lecturer in Creative Multimedia, at the Tipperary Institute, and Caimin O’Brien, Department of Environment archaeologist have also had inputs into its development. Caimin O’Brien encouraged us to develop the multimedia elements of the graveyard surveys and this dovetailed perfectly with the hyperlocal heritage teachings of Bernie Goldbach.

Project URL & Materials

Project Website:

DH2020 Abstract:

Presentation at II International Seminar in Irish Studies:

Poster at III National AIPH Conference (AIPH):


Project Abstract

The Historic Graves project is a community focused public history project, based in Ireland. Local community groups are trained in a low-cost high-tech field survey of historic graveyards and recording of their own oral histories. They build a multi-media online record of the historic graves in their own areas and unite to form a national resource.

On the website, using a digital crowdsourcing methodology, registered users describe the memorials and transcribe the epitaph, recording details of individuals buried there.

Time Needed

When did you begin this project? When did you complete this project?

Time Span: April 10, 2010 - present

Length: 10+ years


What is the outcome of the project?

  1. The online corpus: 800 graveyards recorded; 99,235 geolocated graves; 199,851 people commemorated on collaboratively transcribed memorials, and counting.

  2. The online community of users, both registered (over 15,000) and anonymous visitors (812,743 since website launch).

  3. The web platform (

  4. The recording methodology.


What tools, resources, programs, or equipment did you use for this project?

Community groups are trained to use GPS digital cameras and smartphones to survey historic graveyards. Both new and old survey records are combined with locally recorded audio and video stories to form a multimedia record of a graveyard. The web platform has been originally built in Drupal 6 and has been then upgraded to Drupal 7 in 2018, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Council. Drupal 7 official support has been recently extended until November 28, 2022. At that stage, we will evaluate to migrate the software infrastructure to BackdropCMS, Drupal 9 or another platform.


Historic graves field recording methodology is based on a low-cost, easy to use and accessible toolset

One of many low-cost and non-intrusive methods to help reading incised inscriptions


Please describe any costs incurred for this project, and (if relevant) how you secured funding for these costs.

The surveys are being funded by a number of Local Development Partnerships through LEADER funds and are supported by Local Heritage Officers, County Archaeologists and Local Authorities. Recently, some local community carried out a crowdfunding campaign to support the survey of their local graveyard and we published a donation page (

In 2018, the project received a grant from the Irish Heritage Council, within the European Year of Cultural Heritage Community Grants Scheme, to support the web platform upgrade (8000€).

In general, we build partnerships where the different partners bring funding, permission and labour, whilst we bring technology and experience.

No advertising, no monthly subscription. Free registration required to contribute but not to enjoy.


Please give an overview of the workflow or process you followed to execute this project, including time estimates where possible.

The original design was by John Tierney. Maurizio Toscano, Eachtra Web and GIS manager, built and developed the system. The structure of the grave-form has been based on the manual Care and Conservation of Historic Graveyards Guidelines. It took around 4 months to have the first graveyard online. During this time, we built the web platform, defined the recording methodology and produced the supporting documents to train local communities.

Historic graves of West Cork. Funded and promoted by West Cork Development Partnership and supported by Cork County Council. 25 graveyards - 4883 geo-referenced and (mostly) transcribed headstones

Challenges & Opportunities

What, if anything, changed between beginning your project and its current/final form?

We improved the recording methodology. From time to time we struggled with funding. The sustainability of the website, with the rapid evolving of underlying technologies, is an ongoing challenge, as well as the control of unwanted spam users.

The project evolved from archaeological professional surveys, focusing on studying the headstones, the burial practices and the representation of power and status, to community archaeology focused on graveyards as living heritage, with both tangible and intangible components.

Is there anything specific you wish you had known when beginning your project that might help other people to know?

The importance of participatory engagement strategies to involve local communities and support long-term project sustainability.

Local communities (more than 500 involves so far) were first engaged by offering them training on archaeological recording techniques and low-cost technology. Then, as the project grew, the attractiveness of having their local graveyard online becomes the main driver of engagement.

Instant publication (publish immediately, fix as you go) proved to be highly engaging for the volunteer groups involved: they see immediate results for their work and are willing to share them with family and friends living abroad.

Communication has been carried out online (via the website and social networks, but not through ads), using traditional media channels (national broadcaster and newspapers) and organizing local workshops and meetings. Word of mouth has also played an important role.

Next Steps

Do you have any plans to follow up on this project or work on something similar in the future?

We plan to expand the project and its recording methodology to other countries and to foster the use of the data set for historical and genealogical research.

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