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Mapping and Rendering Cemeteries with LibreCAD and Blender

August 23, 2014

BlenderGravesWhile on unintentional hiatus from my 52 Ancestors Challenge, I’ve discovered two fabulous software packages that might make my family history research a little more colorful: LibreCAD and Blender. These dicoveries came about last week as I fulfilled some Find-A-Grave photo requests at a tiny little hideaway called the Cheltenham Methodist Episcopal Churchyard. Of twenty-five photo outstanding requests, I managed to fulfill only three, and this is almost certainly due to the other other stones either not existing or being totally illegible. I thought I might do each photo requester a favor by mapping the locations of all the stones on this small patch of land and what inscriptions, if any, remained legible upon them. That way, each requester could rest assured that their requests had been fulfilled as well as can be.


The Rowland, Woodhead, and Miller lots at the Cheltenham ME Churchyard, mapped using LibreCAD.

My first instinct was to use a CAD program to draw the map. There are several free CAD programs for Linux. I went with LibreCAD because I read that it is among the more popular. It worked really well for it’s intended purpose, which is to make 2D precision drawings. Basically, you bring your measuring tape out to the burial site, measure the sizes and distances of things, and then draw what you see. Of course, you may add legends and labels to your drawing.

Satisfied with the initial result, I investigated the next logical step: turn a 2D drawing into a 3D rendering that would simulate the feel of being physically present ant the cemetery. For practice, I started with my family’s lot at Holy Sepulchre cemetery in Cheltenham. I started by mapping a portion of it with LibreCAD. I then managed to import the CAD drawing into Blender, the free 3D rendering program. From there, I built up gravestone monuments from imported photographs.

The Blender program is very powerful and has a steep learning curve (but see this). I would not recommend it for computer beginners, but upon asking the Googles a few thoughtfully worded questions and watching a few thoughtfully crafted YouTube videos, I was delighted with what I was able to produce upon three afternoons of tinkering. The sample above looks pretty decent to me, but there is so much left to learn. Eventually I would like to complete the scene with computer generated grass and a clear blue sky.

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Once I master that, I would like to create navigable 3D renderings of cemetery plots or even small cemeteries, like the Cheltenham Methodist Episcopal Churchyard. I could make these available to the public through online platforms such as Second Life. I recall once strolling through a replica of an old Scottish cemetery on Second Life, but I have been unable to find in upon recent searches. The most visible and popular cemetery now on Second Life is the Second Afterlife virtual cemetery, featured in the video below. This virtual cemetery memorializes both real life people and the virtual passings of online personalities. Users pay a fee to rent virtual plots using Second Life’s virtual currency. Once paid the users are free to design their own memorials. Another well crafted Second Life virtual cemetery is the Peace Valley Pet Cemetery.


Technologically speaking, there is nothing to prevent moderately skilled computer users from using software such as Blender and Second Life to contribute to the building of virtual replicas of actual cemeteries and putting them on line for the world to browse. This could be the model of the Find-A-Grave of the future. One needs not be an expert Pixar animator to start building 3D models from cemetery photos. So—what are you waiting for?

Moderate Alteration: Bringing Out Faded Lettering

August 14, 2014


I’d file this Find-A-Grave experiment under Moderate Alterations. The first priority here was to make the writing on this weathered gravestone legible. The second priority was to make it so that a person unfamiliar with the original photo would not realize that it had been modified. The last priority was staying true to the original image. As you can see, I’ve tampered with the stone’s color. I think the experiment was moderately successful. Do you? Your mileage may vary. See Mr. Malady’s Find-A-Grave memorialValue: $20.

52 Ancestors, No. 29: John Corr, Self-made Business Man

July 23, 2014


Unknown hands labelled the back of this photo with a question: Who is this? I found it among my grandfather’s old pictures. He kept it, along with other various treasures, in a tin box that was separate from the other photos in his closet. When I asked the same question to my grandfather, he answered without hesitation: “That’s my grandfather. That’s John Corr.”  Read more…

52 Ancestors, No. 28: The Unmistakable Bertha Balmer

July 16, 2014


I liked this picture so much that I put it on my first business card back in 2012. This is the Balmer family, circa 1898. The woman standing at right is Bertha, the subject of today’s episode of 52 Ancestors. She was my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother—my great-great-grandmother, that is—and she’s unmistakable.  Read more…

52 Ancestors, No. 27: John Hougendobler, Veteran of the American Revolution

July 4, 2014

John Hogendobler's Will - 1820

Today is the Fourth of July, and I can not think of a better way to spend the day than to write up a short profile on the first—and so far the only—direct ancestor I’ve found to be a Revolutionary War veteran! There are bound to be more, but let’s start with this one: Mr. John Hougendobler, an ancestor of my paternal grandmother.  Read more…

52 Ancestors, No. 26: Aunt Ceil, and the Life of a Family Photo

July 2, 2014


As a young girl, my mother discovered in a closet a plaque that eerily bore her own name, Celia Anflick, along with birth and death dates. It was a metal plaque that my mother described as the sort of thing one might see hung in a mausoleum. Of course, the plaque was not my mother’s memorial from a past life. Rather, it was a memorial to an aunt whom my mother would never meet.  Read more…

52 Ancestors, No. 25: Denis Graham, a Link to the Past

June 29, 2014

Graham - Boland - New Cathedral

Because this website, and the business it represents, are image-oriented, I try to have some sort of stimulating GIMP work at the top of each post. The cost of this self-imposed policy is that many fascinating family history stories will go overlooked—unless I manufacture some visually stimulating way to represent the story.

Having recently made a bit of a breakthrough on today’s features ancestor, I wanted to write-up here what I had found. I don’t have a photograph of him, though, so I had to get resourceful. Here before you is the grave of Denis Graham, who was the uncle of my great-great-grandfather, John C. Graham. I’m not really one to doctor gravestone images, but since I recently picked up a few new tricks, I thought I’d see how far I could take them.

In this image, I’ve attempted to remove the rain-induced dampness in the original photograph to present the gravestone as if it were dry. The results were middling, in my opinion. Had I attempted this project for a client, I would have given it more time. Since I’m already a week overdue on Ancestor #25, I figured I’d post what I have and move along. The hardest part of this project is putting life back into the engraved flowers. There wasn’t much left in them after removing darkness of color.  Read more…


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