Most of you know about findagrave.com, or should. It has been around for a few short years and millions of gravestone inscriptions have been and are being transcribed by thousands of volunteers just like you and me. FindAGrave also has many images posted to the transcriptions if the person that surveyed the cemetery took the time to actually take a photo and then upload it.
This is a fantastic website and it is one of my all time favourites. It has one thing that annoys me and that is that it seems to keep nagging th
e viewer to click on ads or ask you to “sponsor this listing” which I presume means to pay some money so that people will not have to see the nag. This is not a big deal as I certainly understand that someone has to pay for the bandwidth, hosting and technical operations of this site.
Move over FindAGrave, there is a new kid in town! Well actually it is a couple of years old but the first time I heard about it was last January or February when I was working down in Houston, Texas. Color me excited and could not wait to get home, and for the weather to break, to give me a chance to try out this new website.
BillionGraves.com is my new best friend and I keep going over and over in my mind as to the wondrous possibilities! This site works a little differently than the former, in that it emphasizes photographs of gravestones first, and get this, coupled with an exact GPS location of the stone even down to a few inches within that exact cemetery!
How in the world could this be done, you ask? Simple as pie, maybe even simpler. This is the 21st century and everyone has a smart phone, or should have within a couple of days if you are a genealogist. You know about apps, right? Mine is an iPhone, but they have an app for brand X phones also. Everything is free. Free to download and and install the app, free to open your own account, which you need to do, in my humble opinion. It is also free to use online for searching or managing the images that you upload.
Your smart phone has a built in GPS that will automatically be read by the app when you take the photograph. There is nothing extra that you have to do. Just line the gravestone up in the viewing window where you are pretty sure that the camera will capture all of the pertinent information, and “click”. Go to the next stone, rinse and repeat.
When you get home you can upload them singly and insert the vital names and dates, or just upload them all at once and go into your online account later and insert the transcriptions. So two days ago I took a test sample of about a dozen or so stones in a nearby cemetery to get started. The day was very bright and early in the morning I could not read the stones at all because most of the stones in this section faced exactly east or west and I had to come back after lunch to catch the stones when the sun was glaring down on an angle over the face of the engraving.
Yesterday I went back early and spent a couple of hours shooting over 100 stones in the same section and did not have to worry about the time of day because it was a cloudy day and the light was diffused all the time. The images were not sharp and super easy to read, but they were good enough to be able to read them when you enlarge them with your online computer. Don’t bother to try to read them on your smart phone, or at least not if you have poor eyesight like me.
So I uploaded the whole batch at once and decided to go back in early this morning and add the inscriptions. Lo and Behold! Someone had already added all of the information for me! This is where it now becomes even more amazing to me. Anyone can sign up to transcribe gravestones, and there must be many thousands of wonderful volunteers doing just that. I encourage you to get involved and help out, because even though there are a very few adds on this amazing website, they will not nag you to pay for “memorials”, or at least not that I have seen in any way shape or form.
There are some things that you will have to overcome with the actual stones themselves. Around this part of Upstate New York we have an annoying green crusty moss that grows on stones that are in the shade. If the stones are never cleaned through the years that moss seems to form a black crust that is impossible to clean with anything, yes I know, don’t ever clean the stones with any chemicals, blah, blah, blah. Nonsense. There that will raise the hackles of a great many perfectionists, but what the hey? This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.
OK, OK, calm down. I did not use any chemicals, at least not yet. \grin/ However what I found to be quite handy was my car window snow and ice scraper brush. The flat part of the ice scraper made short shrift of the green crusty moss, and the brush part cleaned out the grooves just enough so that the stones could be deciphered. It only took less than a minute on maybe a dozen or so stones and most that could be read even with the moss I did not bother to scrape or brush at all.
It only took about an hour to shoot these 100+ stones, even with the cleaning of a few. Are you getting the idea? Are you feeling it? Man, I can’t wait for warm weather and weekends. I do not have any relatives that I know of in the first test case cemetery I described above. It is the New Woodstock Cemetery in the southern part of the town of Cazenovia, New York, which is in Madison County. Take a look at the aerial view map on BillionGraves, and you will see that I just shot one small section of the eastern side and there are many more hundreds to go, which I will get to ASAP.
Please tell us about your use of BillionGraves or FindAGrave. Ask questions by leaving a comment and either I or another reader will be glad to help you out.
I was almost hesitant to post this on April 1st, but this is absolutely not a fools day joke!