Need to find a loved one’s grave? There’s an app for that

Jonathan Michael Peel. FLICKR

We already use our phones to order food, guide our cars, listen to music and a host of other tasks. Why not use it to find a loved one’s grave as well?

In the works since 2011 and released over the summer, the Toronto Hebrew Memorial Parks (THMP) Find a Grave app allows easy searches for the locations of any of roughly 22,000 graves (to date) at Pardes Shalom Cemetery and Pardes Chaim Cemetery, both of which are in Vaughan, Ont.

Available for both iOS (Apple) and Android, the app was developed for THMP, which runs both cemeteries, and is thought to be the first of its kind in Canada, said Howard Mammon, the organization’s executive director.

“We had the app custom made for us and we wanted it to be straightforward and easy to use,” Mammon told The CJN. “We know that rabbis, funeral chapel staff, monument dealers and individuals with family members buried in our cemeteries have already downloaded the app.”

THMP already has a website, which requires the first and last name of the deceased and year of death. People must then wait for an emailed response, which includes an aerial photo of the area, with the grave at issue outlined, along with written directions, a map of the cemetery and a link to the grave’s GPS co-ordinates.

The app allows such searches in real time and in greater detail.

Find a Grave app
Find a Grave app

After the user registers with an email address and password, the software requests the first and last name of the deceased. All matches are then listed and the user opens the relevant one. That in turn reveals the deceased’s full name, year of death, the correct cemetery and its address, the name of the organization or synagogue, if any, the plot’s location by section, row and grave number, and even its latitude and longitude.

The software is updated daily, as information is uploaded by THMP.

Clicking on the “map” option sends the user to either Apple Maps or Google Maps, with directions to the cemetery and grave.

“The app should really make finding graves much simpler for everyone,” Mammon said. Users, he added, can then share search results with others via text, email or WhatsApp.

The software also permits users and THMP to upload photographs of grave sites and headstones.

And with the “notification” option turned on, users can access messages about cemetery closures, weather conditions affecting the facilities and event information, all in real time. Feedback and questions can also be submitted.

The app only lists occupied graves, not those that are reserved or unsold. And there’s room for the database to expand, as Pardes Shalom holds some 30,000 burial lots and Pardes Chaim about 70,000.

Future plans might include the ability for users to maintain graves through the app, including purchasing flowers and markers, explained Leonardo Parra, an engineer with GreenTech GIS and the app’s chief designer.

Mammon said he hopes the app will be especially useful in the run-up to the High Holidays, when visits to cemeteries are customary.