I wrote about the high prices quoted by the Hollywood Memorial Park and Cemetery in Union, New Jersey when a woman seeking cause of death information contacted the cemetery, asking for information about 12 relatives buried there. The story received a lot of publicity, including this newsletter and a lot of newspapers.
The owners of the cemetery apparently are sensitive to the "black eye" received. I noticed this new press release that was issued today:
Families Find Roots in Cemeteries
UNION, N.J., Dec. 8 -- This is the time of year when people contemplate their resolutions for the year ahead. The intentions range from the common -- wellness goals such as weight loss or smoking cessation -- to the complicated, such as tracing their families' genealogies.
A Google search of "genealogy" returns results for 4.5 million websites. Moving through the results, one site offers "free family history, family tree, and genealogy records and resources from around the world." There's another that allows visitors to create a "free family tree" and once they start working through the screens, discover they must pay a fee to continue to actually access the information.
The Internet is a key factor in the emergence of the genealogy industry. The Web makes it quick and convenient to access data through research and collaboration with others -- down the street and even in remote areas of the world. In 2002, The New York Times reported that genealogy websites, which started charging consumers for information in the mid 1990s, had grown into an industry approaching the $100 million threshold.
According to Bernard Stoecklein, president and CEO of CMS Mid-Atlantic, Inc., a company that provides financial, marketing and consulting services to the cemetery industry throughout New Jersey and New York, the company's affiliated properties frequently receive calls from for-profit companies that are compiling genealogical information to sell to families on the web.
Some of the companies that market genealogical information on the Internet, may contact a cemetery to request information about dozens of lot owners at one time. For the cemetery, helping these companies can be labor intensive and time consuming.
"We never allow a company's request to interfere with the level of service we provide to families," said Mr. Stoecklein. "Our affiliated cemeteries and memorial parks are built on the principle of 'people helping people'. CMS' family service counselors help individuals, couples and families plan for their burial in advance of need and at the time of immediate need. They establish trusted relationships with the families and are there to provide service long after the burial."
Mr. Stoecklein said that when a for-profit company contacts a CMS property for genealogical information, the property charges a small fee for the staff's time to research the information; however, when a family member requests information about an ancestor's grave or burial, whenever possible, the family service counselor encourages that person to visit the cemetery to see the grave and permanent memorial, and a family is not charged a fee for this service.
Unlike most for-profit businesses today, many cemeteries, including those affiliated with CMS, use the traditional method to maintain family records -- typed and handwritten files stored in metal cabinets rather than on disks or microchips.
"Our counselors will pull the files, which may date back many decades, and share non-confidential information with the family members," said Mr. Stoecklein. "One of the reasons that a person selects a monument or flush memorial to mark his or her grave is to provide a legacy for future generations to learn about their heritage. By sharing the public information with their descendants, our cemeteries are helping to fulfill the wishes of the deceased."
In November, a woman who was researching her family tree to trace its health history, visited CMS' Hollywood Memorial Park and Cemetery, in Union, New Jersey. She knew that 12 of her maternal relatives, including her grandparents, were buried or interred in the memorial park. When she visited the property's office, she was assisted by Walter Braun, a family service counselor, who provided her with maps of the memorial park and mausoleum. He also directed her to her ancestor's resting places, and gave her copies of the property's file cards that contained the plot, lot and mausoleum numbers for her loved ones.
"The personal touch is invaluable," said Mr. Stoecklein. "As keepers of families' memories, we are privileged to share the information we have on file with their loved ones."