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A Tombstone in Your Palm

by Steve Paul Johnson, August 7, 1999

The Palm III Connected Organizer is a handheld computer that can make tombstone recording easier and faster.

Recording the tombstones at a cemetery is a lengthy and time consuming process.  Having to lug around a notebook of paper, pencils, and perhaps a pencil sharpener can get cumbersome.  Then, once you get it all written down, you have to type it all into your computer.

Enter the Palm Handheld Computer from 3Com.  The Palm III is a "personal digital assistant" (PDA), about the same size as a man's wallet, that holds your address book, calendar, appointments, notes, calculator, e-mail, expenses, and more.  I consider it to be a handheld computer, which it really is.  There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of software titles that you can install on to it.

The nicest part about it is that fits in my shirt pocket, with still room for a pen and some receipts.  I use it at work to track my appointments and store meeting notes.  I also download the news, weather forecast, and stock quotes off the Internet.  You can connect the Palm III to your Windows or Mac PC and share information between the two.  If you use some kind of organizer software such as Outlook, ACT!, Goldmine, or other popular titles, you can synchronize your data with the Palm III.   I also have a solitaire and a mahjongg game which my wife loves!

I thought about how it could be used to record the tombstone inscriptions at a cemetery.  I purchased and installed JFile 3.2, a database application from Land-J Technologies.  JFile allows me to design a database to record just about any information I wish.  I can create the fields, and specify the type of fields. When I connect it to my PC, it downloads the database to a comma-delimited text file which I can load into just about any application I wish (Excel, Access, Word, Notepad, etc.).

Screen Shot 1
Designing the database by defining the fields and field types.

I started designing a database for a nearby cemetery, Ascension Cemetery.  I wanted to record the section, row, and marker number.  I then created fields for surname, given name, birth date, death date, and inscription.  If it turns out that I need to create more fields, I can.  JFile will allow me to add new fields, even after I have entered several records.

Designing the database is fast and very easy.  It only took about 10 minutes, and the only reason why it took that long is because I had to think about which fields I needed.  If I had already planned that out, it would have taken about a minute.

Screen Shot 2

Tombstone data entered into the Form View.

After designing the database, you can begin entering data.  Data is entered using the form.  The Palm III's LCD screen has a writing area at the bottom.  Using the stylus (the writing instrument), you write the information in the writing area and the Palm III recognizes your scribble and converts it to text.  You can write at your normal handwriting speed; the Palm III keeps up with you.  It took about 30 seconds to enter the record at the right.  To make writing a little easier, you can set JFile to automatically capitalize each word.

As part of the Palm OS standards, JFile allows you to use cut, copy, and paste features to save from having to rewrite the same words or phrases each time.  You can also duplicate records when you have two or more burials on the same marker.

The Palm III is very energy efficient, operating on only two AAA batteries.  Under normal day-to-day use, the batteries last me a month.  You can record a 500 grave cemetery on the same two batteries, no problem.  If the day turns into night, you can turn on Palm III's backlight and continue.  However, the backlight will drain the batteries much faster.

Screen Shot 3
The List View shows several records at a glance.  Notice the left and right arrows at the upper right allowing you to scroll across columns.

After you have entered several hundred records, you can view the records using the List View.  Here you can view the records at a glance, size the columns, and scroll across columns.  You can also sort on any column, and filter records.  Using the combination of sorting and filtering you can create simple queries.  JFile will also allow you to edit records from the List View.

JFile comes with some helpful features including a Find utility.  Enter in any search-string and the utility will search for it on any field.  There are some basic navigational tools that allow you to jump to the top or bottom of the table.  If you don't want to jump all the way to the top or bottom, you can specify how many records to jump.  This saves you from having to scroll repeatedly when you have several hundred records entered.

Screen Shot 4
The Find Utility.

When finished recording tombstones, connect the Palm III to your PC and download the database.  JFile comes with a utility called JConvert which converts the JFile database to a comma-delimited textfile.  The textfile can be easily imported into several applications including Access, Excel, Word, etc.  This means that you only need to record the data once.  Whereas on paper, you have to write it down first, and then type it in later; that's double-work!

The combination of the Palm III and the JFile database application makes  an excellent tool for recording tombstone inscriptions. I originally purchased my Palm III in July of 1998, and it cost me $400.00 at a Staples office supply store.  Today, most computer stores sell them for $200.00.  3Com has since released newer models including the Palm IIIe, Palm IIIx, Palm V, and the Palm VII.  JFile is reasonably priced at $19.95, and can be purchased from its website.

You can also purchase a Palm from its Official Online Store.

- Steve Paul Johnson [steve@cleardigitalmedia.com]

Steve is the editor of The Cemetery Column, and is the webmaster of Interment.net.

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