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Amateur genealogists pulling data from Alberta graves

The Alberta Family Histories Society is taking photographs and collecting data from the more than 3,000 graves, which will be uploaded to share with the curious from around the world.

Ron Gilmore likes to say that genealogy is a puzzle that never ends, but his Alberta Family Histories Society is doing its part to help fill in some of those pieces. 

A longtime Okotoks resident and amateur genealogist, Gilmore became president of the society last fall and is excited by its ongoing project to digitize headstones throughout southern Alberta. 

A team of volunteers was at the Okotoks Cemetery on Aug. 11, its second visit this summer, to take photographs and collect data from the more than 3,000 graves, information that will eventually be uploaded to share with the curious from around the world. 

The society has catalogued more than 100 cemeteries and digitized over 200,000 graves to date in an effort to make genealogical data more accessible to an ever-growing number of people who are in search of it.  

Headstones only offer so much information, but Gilmore said names and dates provide a good starting point for those building a family tree or trying to track down a long-lost ancestor. 

“This will give them some clues where to search further,” Gilmore said. “It gets people started looking for other records. Did he own land nearby? Did he have a will? Did he belong to a certain church in the area? So, it gives you some clues to keep pursuing that family tree and all the info around that.” 

Another amateur genealogist, Wendy Schultz leads the volunteer crews that gather data at cemeteries, work that’s primarily done when the weather is co-operative and then uploaded once it turns cold. 

Teams that typically number anywhere from half a dozen to 10 go from section to section of a cemetery to photograph each grave marker so every person buried there is recognized and searchable for family members and others. 

“For me personally, it’s kind of giving back,” said Schultz, who has had an interest in the field for well over 30 years. “It could be family members looking for someone or friends, neighbours, schoolmates just wondering whatever happened to them.” 

A retired accountant in the oil and gas sector, Schultz, who took over as team leader from Heather Williams in 2021, said she spends more hours on her genealogical volunteer duties now than she did working a full-time job. 

It’s a labour of love for Schultz who got more involved with the entirely volunteer-run society after retiring in 2016. 

“We’re not just taking pictures of the markers, we're interested in the people and the relations, where they were born, where they died, who they were married to and that sort of thing,” she said. “We’re looking at it from more a genealogist’s point of view.” 

Roy Aggarwal, the group’s web developer, is the one responsible for ensuring everything collected ends up in the society’s database and subsequently on its website. 

“Now that information has gone from somebody’s notebook, which may or may not survive, to the whole wide world and it’s there permanently, that's the beauty of the internet,” Aggarwal said. “We’re able to share that information with anyone that wants it.” 

Based in Calgary, the 280-member society initially focused its digitizing efforts on city cemeteries, but has since expanded to go as far south as Medicine Hat and as far north as Carstairs. Gilmore said the goal is to eventually do the entire province. 

In addition to cataloguing new cemeteries, volunteers make maintenance visits to capture data on recent burials. 

To access the society’s data, visit or 

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