a GPS Device
Steve Paul Johnson
January 8, 2001
My wife and I, along with a friend of ours, were deep in the
southeastern California desert in search of a small cemetery used
by workers of the Southern Pacific Railroad during the late 1800s.
It was called "Amos Cemetery", and we were told it was
about 14 miles north of Glamis along the Ted Kipf road.
So along we drove, stirring up dust and sand in our 4x4s in search
of this place. We finally had to stop and ask a group of dirt
bikers if they knew where it was. They told us we had overshot
it about a mile back. We went back and finally found it.
When I got back home, I downloaded the photos into my laptop,
and began preparing the webpage to publish on Interment.net. I
always try to include directions on how to get to the cemetery,
but this one was tough. I did manage to write some directions,
but they were not any more helpful than those that were originally
given to us. If I tried to go back there 10 years from now, I
may forget how to find it.
I decided I should invest in a GPS device.
GPS, short for Global Positioning System, is a system of 24 satellites
that orbit the earth constantly measuring their positions. The
GPS Device is a machine that sends and receives signals to and
from the satellites in an effort to determine your current position.
GPS devices were long used by boats and airplanes, but the technology
has become so affordable, that consumers can now buy them for
With a GPS device in hand, you can stand in the middle of a cemetery,
and it will determine the latitude and longitude coordinates,
and even altitude if it has enough satellites tracked. A device
can store your location in memory so that you can refer back to
it later on. When publishing your cemetery transcription, noting
the coordinates will provide readers with a precise location.
Should someone have a GPS device of their own, they will be able
to find the cemetery easily.
To find a cemetery, simply enter the coordinates into the GPS
device, and it will point the way. The lower-end models will use
a compass pointer to show you which way to go, along with the
distance, your current traveling speed, and estimated time of
arrival. Higher-end models include mapping data to provide a street
map. Most all GPS devices will update its information every second.
I did a lot of research on the Internet trying to figure out
what I should buy, what brands are the best, and to learn something
about the features so that I could decide what I would need. I
purchased the Garmin
GPS 12 Personal Navigator.
|The Garmin GPS 12 is about the size of a
The GPS 12 is considered an entry level device. At $150.00, it's
quite cheap compared to the other models. Garmin does make a cheaper
model, the eTrex, but many of the reader reviews I read said it
tended to lose contact with the satellites when near canyon walls
or under tree cover. Since I planned to use the device during
my hikes, I decided to get the higher quality GPS 12. Most camping
and sporting goods stores sell them.
So now, with coordinates in hand, it doesn't bother me too much
if my driving directions are really bad. I can just note the coordinates.
It's still wise to write a set of directions, at least to identify
a general region, but provide the coordinates to pinpoint the
exact location. In time, GPS devices will become more popular
as prices go down. Most high-end cars have them built into the
dash. You can even enter the coordinates into MapQuest.com and
it will produce a road map for you.
All devices have the ability to remember the locations you mark.
My Garmin GPS 12 will store up to 500 locations (or commonly referred
to as "waypoints"). You can assign a short name to each
location, and even an icon. You can even buy mapping software
for your PC that will allow you to assemble a list of destinations,
and then download to your GPS device.
|The position page on the Garmin GPS 12. Note
the Lat/Lon coordinates under "Position".
You could mark coordinates for your great-grandfather's old house.
In fact, it might be a good idea just to mark the coordinates
of old graveyards and structures, before they get torn down, or
covered up by the sands of time. Even if old buildings remain
standing, the roads leading to them may wither away, and later
generations may have a tough time trying to follow the original
The U.S. Geological Survey has compiled a database
of geographic names, including cemeteries, along with their
latitude and longitude coordinates. You can enter these coordinates
into your GPS device and let it point the way. Most GPS devices
require you to be within 500 miles of your destination before
it can provide you with directions.
I found that the coordinates presented by the U.S. Geological
Survey may not be definitive enough. The coordinates they provide
are accurate up to about 100 feet. That's because they don't break
down the seconds into tenths or hundreths. Each second in a latitude
position represents approximately 100 feet. A GPS device will
give you exact coordinates in hundreths, giving you resolution
to within 1 foot.
|The compass on the Garmin GPS 12
I've even corresponded with a guy who claimed the USGS coordinates
are off by about 10 miles. He admitted that not all the geographic
names are off, but he maintained that there were too many inaccurate
coordinates to be ignored. The information in their database is
in fact somewhat old. They don't have many of the newer, and large,
cemeteries identified. But that shouldn't affect the accuracy
of the coordinates. So far, I haven't run across any grossly inaccurate
Even though the GPS is capable of providing 1 foot resolution
of accuracy, it will never actually be that accurate. That's because
there are so many weather factors that can offset the timing of
the signals bouncing back and forth between the device and the
satellites. Still, navigation experts claim that you can expect
accuracy to within 15 to 40 feet.
Most devices, including the GPS 12, will allow you to create
a "trip". A trip is a series of destinations that you
wish to visit. Once you have assembled the destinations for your
trip, the device will tell you distance, in miles, that separate
each destination. On the lower end models, the distance is measured
as a straight line, which is not usually practical when driving
on roads. But higher end models, with mapping data, can plot a
driving course, and provide you with more accurate distance.
|The satellite tracker on the Garmin GPS 12
Some people will tell you that the U.S. Government purposely
feeds bogus data into the satellites so that they won't be accurate
enough for terrorists or foreign aggressors to utilize. Well,
that used to be true! The U.S. military had devices that could
overcome the inaccuracies. But on May 1, 2000, President Clinton
signed an order to cease this practice.
With the popularity of GPS devices in the consumer market, people
have been compiling databases of locations. Most of the locations
represents trailheads, geographic formations, and such. Many such
databases are being published on the web. I'd like to see a similar
database of cemeteries, one that is more accurate than the USGS,
and includes the tens of thousands of small graveyards that they
have left out.
In fact, as a cemetery publisher, I would like to see more cemetery
recordists invest in GPS devices and make a habit of marking coordinates.
It's probably the best means we have for preserving the locations
of abandoned graveyards.
- Steve Paul Johnson