Cemeteries have a special place in the hearts of many genealogists, including me. FindAGrave has more than 154 million memorials on its site and is a valuable research tool. However, there are two key areas where FindAGrave could be made better — and should be made better. Continue reading
It’s sad — and rather frustrating — to go to a cemetery, take some photos, and realize when you get home that those photos don’t really help you. (It’s especially frustrating when you’re not able to get back to take more photos.) To help ease the frustration, here are 5 cemetery photos that you should get in the habit of taking every time:
1. The Cemetery Sign
The cemetery sign should be the first photo you take each time you go to the cemetery. I know it feels a little strange to take a picture before you even get into the cemetery. Honestly, this was a hard habit for me to get into, but I am so glad I did!
When you go to several cemeteries, you can lose track of which one was which. Having the sign as the first photo for that cemetery, you never have to wonder later, “Which cemetery was this?” All you need to do is scroll back through your photos until you get to the cemetery sign.
Not all cemeteries have a sign like the one for Haven Cemetery. In those cases, make your own. Write down the name (or the location if you don’t know the name) and take a picture of that.
2. The Entire Tombstone
I like to get a picture of the entire tombstone, even if I can’t read all of the details. (More on that in a moment.) You wouldn’t photocopy just one paragraph of an ancestor’s will. Treat the tombstone the same way: as a document. Get a photo showing the whole thing.
EDIT: Make sure you get photos of the back and sides of the stone, too! (Thanks to everyone who reminded me that I forgot to mention it!)
3. Close-up of Details
There are often details that aren’t legible in the photo of the entire tombstone. That’s when you want to take close-up shots. Take photos of the name and dates, the epitaph, symbols, and other details. (Take them from several angles to improve your odds of reading them later.)
Here’s a closeup of Nellie’s name and dates:
A closeup of the epitaph:
4. The Wider Shot
If you want to have some hope of finding that tombstone again, take several steps back and get a photo of the tombstone and the stones around it. This helps give you landmarks for finding it again. Little Nellie’s tombstone could easily be overlooked. But the larger Edgar tombstone stands out more. I can look for that stone again and know that Nellie is right in front of it.
(Yes, I know that smartphone cameras can geo-tag a photo. But what if you don’t have cell coverage at that cemetery or you’re not using your phone? And what if you’re like me and have geo-tagging turned off?)
5. The Neighbors
Our ancestors are often buried near other relatives. Get photos of the surrounding tombstones (including closeups of the inscriptions). Even if you don’t know how (or even if) those people are related now, you’ll have the information for when you do more research on the family later.
Buried next to Nellie is Walter E., son of D. & K. Sager, who died 4 January 1888, aged 3 years, 3 months, and 26 days. (How sad for the Sager family to lose two children in less than two years.)
Get in the Habit
It’s so easy to take tons of photos at the cemetery. Getting into the habit of taking these 5 photos will help you be less frustrated when you’re looking at them later.
What’s your “must take” photo at the cemetery?
On a recent trip to northern Michigan, my sister and I decided to visit some nearby cemeteries and fulfill some Find A Grave photo requests. (Who needs to play golf on vacation when you can visit cemeteries?!) I fired up the Find A Grave app on my iPhone, found a couple of nearby cemeteries with photo requests and away we went.
Just as we were finishing walking the first cemetery, my phone died. No phone, no Find A Grave app, no way of knowing the photo requests. Thankfully, we had a car charger and I could get it recharged enough while we ate lunch so we could go to the next cemetery.
Although northern Michigan is beautiful, it is a bit spotty in cell coverage in places. I opened the Find A Grave app before going to the cemetery and left it running the whole time we were there. Since I had the geo-locator turned on to help guide us to the cemetery, my phone kept trying to acquire service while we were there. The more it tried, the faster the battery drained.
We still wanted to visit another cemetery, but I didn’t want to have my phone continually dying on me, especially if I found a tombstone. I wanted to make sure I could upload it from there. Here’s what I did to save the battery:
- Before heading back out, we took notes on the location of the next cemetery, so we didn’t need turn-by-turn directions.
- I went into the Find A Grave app, found the cemetery, and tapped “Open Photo Requests.”
- Took a screenshot of the photo requests.
- Closed the Find A Grave app. (Double-tapping my iPhone’s home button, which reveals all of the open apps, then swiping the Find A Grave app from bottom to top to close it.)
When we went to the cemetery, instead of having my app open to remember the names of the tombstones we were hunting, I could just open my photos and see it. My phone wasn’t continually trying to pinpoint my position and trying to acquire service to do so.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find any of the tombstones we were hunting, but if we had, I would have had enough battery to open the app again and fulfill the request right from there.
A Note About the Battery
I’ve used the Find A Grave app in cemeteries numerous times with this phone and hadn’t had the phone die before. However, I’m usually in areas with good cell coverage. But when I’m in a situation like this again where the signal isn’t the strongest, I’m going to take a screenshot of the photo requests and shut down the app before I go.
When I posted the first part of my review of BillionGraves.com, I had not yet created an account. This is what happened when I registered and used the site.
Creating an account is free. It was a bit odd, however. I filled in the form (username, email address, and entered the password twice) and got a pop-up message that my registration was complete. I was then directed to the login screen. If I just created an account successfully, why do I have to go through a separate login process?
I logged in and chose the Transcribe tab. I was taken to a random image that needed to be transcribed.
Right away, I could see a problem. There is no link to a help screen. You might ask, “How hard can it be to transcribe a tombstone?” It’s harder than you might think. For example, if a stone has a woman’s maiden name and her married name, where do you put the maiden name? Does it go in the first name field or in the “family names” field? If a tombstone lists the age at death rather than stating the birthday, do you calculate the birthday and enter that or do you leave it blank?
There is no way to mark an image as illegible. I would love to transcribe this little tombstone on the left, but there is no way it can be read.
Many of the tombstones that needed to be transcribed were obviously the reverse side of a tombstone. Which brings up another unfortunate shortcoming of Billion Graves: records can only have one image attached to them. They can have multiple people, but only one image.
I came across this image listed in Evergreen Cemetery in Springville, Utah:
Each name is listed in Billion Graves — but whose children are they? Not only do we miss out on who their mother is, but if we had found her record, we’d miss out on a wonderful list of her children.
Another drawback to having only one image per record is inability to have multiple views. Often on tombstones, the inscription is only legible when read close-up. However, it is good to have a photo of the entire tombstone for context. Yes, you can upload both photos and transcribe both of them, but are the two records connected? Unless someone notices that there are two identical records, it would be easy to look at one and not see the other.
One concern that I had in my first review was that the full record doesn’t show the name of the cemetery. I wondered if that was something that was available only when you logged in. No. Even after logging in, the full record still does not show the name of the cemetery.
Ok, so I’ve explored transcribing and I’ve looked at full records after logging in. What is the upload process like? I’d love to tell you, but I can’t. MAJOR FLAW with Billion Graves: You can only upload photos from your iPhone. What?!?! I spend hours in cemeteries. I go to cemeteries even when I know I don’t have relatives buried there. I go to cemeteries when I’m on vacation. I have more than one thousand tombstone photos sitting on my computer and I cannot upload any of them to Billion Graves.
I understand that the BillionGraves app is designed to allow people to upload their photos and automatically geotag them in the process. That’s cool. I like that concept. However, to completely disregard the contributions that non-iPhone users could make is extraordinarily short-sighted. Right now, not even Android users can upload via a BillionGraves app. Currently, unless you have an iPhone, you’re not going to add any images. BillionGraves reports that they are working on an Android version. But that still leaves out those who don’t take tombstone photos with smartphones.
I should be able to choose a cemetery, select “Upload image” and upload it from my computer or non-iPhone smartphone. It might not be geotagged, but it would be in the right cemetery and people would be able to access the image and the record.
I’m a long-time FindAGrave user and contributor, but there are things about the site that drive me batty. I had hoped that Billion Graves would give FindAGrave a run for its money. I think healthy competition is a good thing. Innovation tends to flow in a healthy competitive environment. I had hoped that Billion Graves would either force FindAGrave to make some improvements or would become the “go to” site for tombstone images. As it stands right now, Billion Graves is not the competition I had hoped it would be. Maybe they will be willing to listen to some constructive criticism.
Midge Frazel over at Granite in My Blood has been blogging about the new Billion Graves app for the iPhone. I’ve downloaded it to my iPad and thought I’d take a look at the BillionGraves.com website. I took a test drive at Billion Graves. I think the site has potential. I’m hoping that some what I’ve seen so far is just glitches of a new system getting hit hard in its first weekend.
The stated goal of Billion Graves is “to provide an expansive family history database for records and images from the world’s cemeteries—but it’s not something we can do alone. We need you to help us by collecting images from your local cemeteries and transcribing the information those headstone images provide.” That’s a lofty goal, considering the reach of FindAGrave.com and its 62 million cemetery records. Will researchers and cemetery enthusiasts be willing to consider contributing to another site?
The search screen has four fields: first name, last name (required), birth year, and death year. I used the search term I use whenever I’m testing a new system: last name = smith. I got 44 results.
Above the results list is a dropdown menu to sort the results, with the options of Last Name A-Z, Last Name Z-A, First Name A-Z, First Name Z-A, Birth Date, or Death Date. However, none of the sort options would work. I tried on Firefox, Chrome, and Safari on my laptop and on Safari on my iPad. I tried selecting a sort option and then clicking “Search” again, I tried refreshing the page — the sort never changed.
I can understand the developers of Billion Graves wanting to keep their search form simple. However, if they get any sort of mass of records, there must be more search options. I can’t imagine trying to find my John Johnson only being able to search by name, birth year and death year. What if I didn’t know when he died? Having “place of burial” (even if it is just a state) is essential.
I clicked on the first result to see what the full entry looked like.
A couple of things puzzle me. First, why isn’t the name of the cemetery listed? If I share the URL to the page with this image, someone else visiting it has no idea where it is unless they click “View on Map.” When you do that, you are told that it is necessary to login to view that page. I hope that Billion Graves isn’t intentionally withholding the name and/or location of the cemetery unless the viewer is logged in. That’s not the way to make an inviting, welcoming site that people want to contribute to.
The second thing that puzzles me is the format of the date. Why show it in the record as “10/12/1946”? Those of us in the United States would probably interpret it as October 12, but it could be interpreted by Europeans as December 10. If the goal is to have a worldwide cemetery resource, the data need to be presented in a global-friendly format.
Billion Graves will allow you to search for a cemetery, using dropdowns for country, state, and county. You can also enter the cemetery name. I entered United States, Ohio, Fairfield and got 144 hits. There was the message “Showing only the first 100 results. Please narrow your search.” Why not list the first hundred and then give me the option to page through all of the cemeteries in that location? Also, the results came back in seemingly random order. They were alphabetical until the entry for Zwingly [sic] Cemetery, followed by County Infirmary and then the alphabet started over again.
There appears to be a glitch in the system. When I clicked on a cemetery name, there was no option to search for another cemetery, so I used my browser’s back button. It took me back to the cemetery search, but the only options for states were Utah, Texas, and Tennessee (in that order). Out of curiosity, I clicked on Utah, and Beaver County was automatically selected. Thinking that maybe it was just showing cemeteries with records, I clicked on the first one. However, there were no records for it. When I used my back button to go back to the cemetery search page, United States and Utah were filled in — but the counties choices were Utah, Texas, and Tennessee. (I’m pretty sure those aren’t counties in Utah.)
Overall, I like the interface. It is easy to use (except where it isn’t) and it is easy to read. As I mentioned, I hope that some of what I’m seeing — sort options not working, cemetery name not displaying, glitch in the cemetery search — is the result of a young system getting hit hard.
Later this evening, I am going to create a BillionGraves.com account and see what, if anything, changes.
UPDATE: I’ve posted Part 2 of my review.