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Why are there no English headstones to transcribe?

This is one of the questions I get a lot on the help desk.

In the winter months in North America, things slow down quite a bit for people desiring to face the cold to visit cemeteries. We have very few people in fact who do go out in the winter for photographs.  Cemeteries are not usually looking their best either, and people want their photos to look fabulous!

We also have more transcribers willing to do English stones than other languages.  You don't have to translate the stones from their foreign language in fact we totally discourage this practice!  If not English try Spanish, German, or Portuguese!  It can be fun doing other languages.  We only ask that you transcribe languages that are alphanumeric. Please DO NOT transcribe Chinese, Russian or Polish unless you have a background in these languages.  ALSO DO NOT TRANSCRIBE THE DATES ONLY!  This is a big NO NO, as it makes it impossible for people to find their loved ones in a specific cemetery if the names are not placed in the box. 

Here are some other ideas, try going into any cemetery and looking for green pins. The stones with green pins are often ones that our fast transcribers skipped over because they don't like to take the time to figure them out. Personally, I'm one of those weird people, I guess, who love a challenge!  I want people to be able to have the data they are looking for, and am willing to go to great lengths to ensure they get information on loved ones.

If a stone is unreadable or there is difficulty reading a stone, perhaps you can use other websites, published information, and genealogical sites  to try and figure out who's stone it is.  Just be sure to add this in the notes section. For example, I was having difficulty reading some of the green pins in the Trinity Churchyard in New York City.  However, there is a free archive site online that listed all of the stones and their epitaphs and I was able to figure out whose stone it was and even added it to FamilySearch!

Speaking of FamilySearch, did you know that you can add FamilySearch personal identification numbers to our database and it will link the two accounts together? This is yet another activity I like to do when we are low on easy transcriptions. I will often go into FamilySearch and either create a new person using the information from the cemetery or I will link Billion Graves information with FamilySearch to help others in their family history. This is a win win for everyone!

If the idea of scrolling back and forth between websites is a little unnerving, how about connecting families together on our website. As we have thousands of transcribed records with no family relationships listed.  I have personally gone into my family and genealogical family stones and have added data to connect my grandparents with their parents and children and so forth.

Another idea is adding information in the memories section.  Add an obituary, story or any other information you wish to enrich the life information of an individual.  You can also add photos, just make sure the DPI is larger than 400x500 to ensure high quality viewing. By adding photos, you almost seem to breathe life into the life information area of the website.  I would highly recommend it!

Hopefully these suggestions will create some ideas on just how you can further help our movement, as we want to protect and preserve cemetery information for future generations, and create a rich database for all to enjoy!

Hopefully these suggestions will add to your Billion Graves experience!Below is one of the records that was listed as a "green pin" on a cemetery in California.  Could you read it? I know I can, as I just transcribed it.  There are pins like this in every just have to look for them!

Here is another response that we just loved from Jim:

A user stated this in the community: "I have had it!  Wasting my time doing these headstones is NOT exactly what I came to do.  We ask questions and nobody answers or are snippy when they do.  WHEN you decide to fix the darn site, let me know and if I'm NOT busy I may come back.  Somewhere in the program there is something wrong.  No headstones to transcribe?  Most of them all ready transcribed?  (Weather being a thing to blame?)  Well, somehow I just don't believe it. I think a "chosen few get them" while others don't.  I'm out of here!  When you get someone to fix the new program and fix it right I may be back.  I can waste my time in more valuable places!"

Jim's response:

Dear User:
Just a couple of observations to help you understand the BillionGraves process.

BillionGraves consists of data provided primarily by volunteers, that is, the photos are taken by volunteers if and when they get the opportunity. A lot of volunteers are elderly and do not go out to cemeteries in winter or the colder months in Fall or Spring. That is a fact and there is nothing that will change that.

Traditionally, there are far more transcribers than photographers so when photos are released they are transcribed very quickly. Keep in mind too that the photographer has 14 days to transcribe their own photos and if they all do that then there are no photos available to transcribe.

When there are no photos to transcribe many of us will go through already transcribed records and look for errors to correct, records to verify and will search other freely available information to add to a record.

There is no 'chosen few' or conspiracy's first in first served as far as transcribing goes. You are not being discriminated against in any way and are experiencing the same frustration as many thousands of other transcribers.

This community forum is also manned by volunteers sitting in our own houses who will answer any and all questions that they can...but we don't know everything. If a question here goes unanswered it's only because we don't have an answer.

I can only suggest that if you get a 'snippy' response, it may be because of the way your messages come across.

Regards Jim

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"When there are no photos to transcribe many of us will go through already transcribed records and look for errors to correct, records to verify and will search other freely available information to add to a record."  

How do I "look for errors to correct"?  

I really don't understand something and would like to. I take and enter my own pictures. There are times that I would like to enter pictures when I have run out. I have read that there just aren't any pictures that need transcribing due to volume in the winter. I do understand that, however, when I see people on the transcribing side of the leader board with numbers in the thousands and they don't take their own pictures, I don't understand that. How are so many pictures available to a select few? Are they released based on seniority? Do those people work for Billion Graves?  I'm not complaining, I would just like to understand. Maybe I have a setting that is incorrect on my dashboard. Please help. 

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Here are some ways some of these folks do this. Some of them have multiple devices on an account and family members do it together under one account. This is the case for me as I have traveled to multiple cemeteries logged into one account and my kids help me with photos. In a three day period,  I was able to take over 2500 photos using 4 devices. This is how the photo takers stats get high. 

The transcribers often go into cemeteries in other countries to transcribe. They also look for green pins in English language Cemeteries and transcribe some of those. While we encourage users to look for green pins, we absolutely DO NOT encourage people to transcribe headstones in languages they are not prepared for. Some of these transcribers have had warnings not to go into Hungarian,Chinese,Russian, Jewish, or Polish cemeteries anymore due to poor transcriptions they have done in the past. (If you speak English only and are going into Hungarian, Chinese,Polish, Jewish, and Russian Cemeteries without knowing exactly what you are doing, be forewarned that we are also not at all apposed to resetting transcriptions that were done poorly, as I have done this as well. It is not right and not fair to ruin the research process for everyone by being foolhardy in the transcription process.)-I had to place that plug in there! Looking on the leader board right now, I can tell you that a majority of these transcribers are either doing their own images or are doing many transcriptions in other countries such as Russia and Poland. If you speak and can write another language fluently besides, English, there are thousands of transcriptions ready for you do help us with. Make sure, however, that you place those languages into your profile in the profile settings. 

What we do encourage however, is to place a 14 day hold on your photos. This is also what I do, and do it quite often because as a researcher, I want to add interesting tidbits into each photo I have taken and  that I have uncovered through research. I do not want a transcriber doing them for straight stats as I want accuracy with researched information. Many of our wonderful Australian, English, American, and Canadian researchers do just that. They take enough photos for a few days of transcription, making sure they have placed holds on their photos, transcribe them, and then go back for more photos. These ladies and gentleman have been doing this for a very long time almost 10 years in some cases, so their stats are very high.    

In order to save photos for just yourself to transcribe, before uploading your device will ask if you would like to transcribe these yourself. By clicking "yes" these photos are placed on hold for you for 14 days from the date of the upload. By clicking "no" they go into transcription by the public pool. Typically when you state "no" these are transcribed in a matter of hours. 

There are no photos released on seniority, as soon as they are released to the public they are available for everyone! Many of my own photos have been released to the public, 99.9% of those have been done extraordinarily well by wonderful people who just want to make a difference. 

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Thank you for your response! I was really curious. I love this program and have turned some of my friends into avid contributors. I had read on the blog just last week that there were people complaining about the Family Search. That really bothered me. I love the Family Search window. I get excited when I see that I am helping connect families. I hope that part of the program stays. If ever Billion Graves is looking for people in Florida to help out with the program, I would love be part of this on a larger scale. I was a records supervisor for two large police departments and I know the importance of collecting accurate data. Thanks again for taking the time to explain things to me. It is greatly appreciated.  

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@tvbusybee- We are actually moving into Florida in the upcoming months. There is an app called "JustServe" that we are working with on large scale projects. This winter and spring we will be working extensively in the South East.  :)

@AYoung -  I think what needs to be more clearly communicated to users, specifically about the "no English records to transcribe?" questions, is that while there may appear to be, in the cemetery search window, many records to transcribe at one moment, there may be several people (around the world!) doing transcriptions at the same time, and the available records simply run out by the time you've gone through a few of them.

Someone who's very dedicated to the task, can run through several records a minute, or perhaps hundreds per hour.

So it's not that "there aren't any" - I think it's important to let people understand more clearly that it's a constantly-changing situation and the computer power needed to consistently update the statistics, makes it difficult to thoroughly display current statistics to users. 

That being said, there is certainly room for website improvement on all aspects of this task.

As well, there are often many images of old, failing, overgrown stones that are in English, but unreadable due to a poor-quality photo or dirt/moss/grass/debris on the stone itself.

Obviously, one cannot improve the quality of the photos within the website; so any that are un-readable, basically stay un-readable.  Hopefully, the diligent will mark the image appropriately (as unreadable or blurry), so it will disappear from the queue.

If not marked as such, though, it remains in the queue, perhaps for a long time, being skipped over each time.

Before you know it, you may have skipped over dozens or hundreds of images...  so you can't say "where are all the untranscribed records?" - you've just skipped over many of them!!!

But what happens to them?  In a different thread, someone (you?) wrote that you pulled some of these back out as available for transcription.  Why not have a filter for 'marked as: unreadable, blurry, etc...' for the dedicated to dig into?

I've recently been able to transcribe several dozen records that were taken up to 5 years ago (per the date on the photo) - so they've been in limbo for that long - by finding something readable on it, and doing some Googling with other family history sites.

I'd actually LOVE to see a filter for the 'unreadable'...  :)

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I am a researcher and transcriber. We have put several articles out on the forum for readers over the past two years explaining the issue at hand. Here is what the problem is in a nutshell. We have more transcribers than photo takers. Often those who take photos choose to do their own transcriptions leaving the pool very slim. When a photographer releases their photos to the public, these are often transcribed in minutes. When there are no images to transcribe a pop-up comes up reading: "Sorry there are no more images. Images recently uploaded may not be available for 2 weeks. Please adjust your filters." In essense this does let transcribers know that they need to readjust their filters to find other images. To readjust filters you simply go to the transcription page and change the Language, Country, or Cemetery in question. 

We have told users when there are no photos to look for green pins in a cemetery. These were photos marked as unreadable and went into an individual photographers reported images file. They remain as green pins in a cemetery, that when users come along, they can transcribe. We decided as a team to re-release green pins in order to get them transcribed and put in the cemetery as searchable. 

Here is one example I had just this moment. The image is a little blurry. Someone had marked it as blurry or unreadable. Here is the transcription. Myrtle Marie Alexander, born April 17, 1901. Died October 28, 1901.  Although the image is not perfect, it is readable.  You have to ask yourself. Is this record worth having the GPS marker, although it is not perfect? The answer is YES!  Hopefully, another photographer will come along and take a better photo, but at least we know with GPS where it is in the cemetery.

Here is one that I would red flag. This one is completely unreadable. There are no letters that can be read on the stone. Once these are red-flagged it removes them back into the photographers reported image files and takes them once again out of the que. 

If the photo is a newer headstone and looks like this, please send the URL that will look like this  into support as these need to be removed from the site.  These stones are newer and there is a high probability that they will be photographed again. 

Should I red flag this image or keep it? This image was taken in Waterford Rural Cemetery in Saratoga, New York.  Here was another image that was red-flagged by a user. If you can see letters on it, please do not red-flag it!  There are researchers who can figure it out. It looks like this is Catharine wife of Patrick Gary. She died April 1880. I can't read the rest, but at least this image is now searchable. 

Here is how I  personally do the transcription process with these images. If there is absolutely no way an image can be transcribed, red-flag it accourdingly. If there is a chance that a researcher could figure it out and you feel that you can't be that person skip it. If you are a researcher looking for  puzzles to work is the opportunity. I absolutely love working on these old stones, as I feel it is a labor of love to give these people their identity back, and it allows their decendants to know where their final resting place is. 

For more information about this topic please read this article: 

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