Review of BillionGraves.com – Part 2

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.

Transcribing an image

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?

Illegible tombstone

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:

Reverse of tombstone

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.

Review of BillionGraves.com

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.

Person search and 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.

Full record

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.

Cemetery search and results

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.

Tombstone Tuesday: Modern Woodmen of America

This tombstone in Forest Cemetery, Circleville, Ohio is a great example of the Modern Woodmen of America. Many genealogists and taphophiles are familiar with the Woodmen of the World organization, which placed countless tree-stump tombstones on the graves of its deceased members. The Modern Woodmen of America is older than WOW, though it was founded by the same man, Joseph Cullen Root. He formed MWA in Lyons, Iowa in 1883. He left the organization and formed WOW in Omaha, Nebraska in 1890.

Modern Woodmen of America is still an active fraternal/insurance organization. Today it offers a variety of insurance and financial services. Its website features a timeline of its history.

Rihl tombstone with Modern Woodmen of America logo, Forest Cemetery, Circleville, Ohio. Photo by Amy Crow, 10 May 2009; all rights reserved.

Rihl tombstone with Modern Woodmen of America logo, Forest Cemetery, Circleville, Ohio. Photo by Amy Crow, 10 May 2009; all rights reserved.


Close-up of Modern Woodmen of America logo, Rihl tombstone, Forest Cemetery, Circleville, Ohio. Photo by Amy Crow, 10 May 2009; all rights reserved.

Close-up of Modern Woodmen of America logo, Rihl tombstone, Forest Cemetery, Circleville, Ohio. Photo by Amy Crow, 10 May 2009; all rights reserved.

Tombstone Tuesday: John Coble, “a lovely bud so young and fair”

John C. Coble tombstone, Asbury Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio. Photo taken by Amy Crow 9 June 2009; all rights reserved.

John C. Coble tombstone, Asbury Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio. Photo taken by Amy Crow 9 June 2009; all rights reserved.

This tombstone is in Asbury Cemetery in Madison Township, Franklin County, Ohio, near the intersection of Noe-Bixby Road and Winchester Pike. It is in excellent condition. I love the epitaph.

“In
memory of
John C.
Son of John and
Jane Coble.
born Augt 3th 1838.
died Septr. 17th 1840.
aged 2 years,
1 month and 14 days.
This lovely bud so young
and fair,
Called hence by early doom
Just came to show how
sweet a flower
In paradise would bloom.”