Across the world, gravestones are deteriorating and erosion is erasing the precious details of our ancestors' lives. BillionGraves, the world’s largest GPS-linked cemetery database, can help. The BillionGraves smartphone app can be used to document gravestones. With BillionGraves, even if a loved one's gravestone is damaged or worn by time, the invaluable information recorded at their final resting place will still be available.
How can you help? It’s as easy as grabbing your smartphone or tablet, downloading the free BillionGraves app to your device, and heading out to the cemetery. Then simply take pictures of each gravestone as you walk along.
The app will capture the GPS location automatically and in just a short visit, hundreds of records can be preserved. When you are finished, upload the photos - with one click of a button - so everyone can use them for family history and keep the memories alive of those we honor and love.
For more than 10 years, Anna, a BillionGraves volunteer, has worked alone to photograph headstones in dozens of cemeteries across the United States.
Here are some of her tips:
- Photograph an entire area of a cemetery. This allows those who volunteer later to be able to visually see what was done in the past.
- If you don't have time to document the entire cemetery, photograph the oldest headstones first. Pollution and vandalism are causing many of the older gravestones to deteriorate at a rapid pace. The sooner these are documented the better!
- If the headstone is worn, you can transcribe it right at the cemetery. This is useful if the gravestone is likely to be too difficult for a transcriber to read from a photograph but you can feel the letters with your hands or see the letters at just the right angle. To do this, just tap on the pencil icon in the corner of your screen and a transcription form will appear. NOTE: most of the time you do not need to use the pencil icon or transcribe at the cemetery at all. Transcriptions are usually done on a computer after all your photos have been uploaded.
- Do not put anything on a stone other than plain water. Anything else can do real damage. Take photos and researchers can figure out who is buried beneath, even if it isn't readable.
Families and Family Reunions
Anyone old enough to take a photo with a phone is welcome to help. Assign each of your family members a section of the cemetery to photograph. You could also work in pairs to promote family bonding. Alternate taking photos of every other gravestone. Or you could each take a row and then “leapfrog” over your partner’s row.
Even little ones can help by brushing off gravestones or spraying them with a water bottle.
If your family takes a road trip, you could help take photos of gravestones along the way. One family decided that on their trip they would stop at every cemetery they passed. The whole family jumped out of the car and took pictures with the BillionGraves app on their smartphones.
If the cemetery was small, they finished the entire cemetery. If it was larger, then they just photographed a few rows. Since the GPS was marking each gravestone automatically, other volunteers who came there later would easily be able to tell what had already been finished.
1. Download the BillionGraves app to your smartphone from your app store.
2. Create a free account on the app or at BillionGraves.com.
3. In the app, click on "take pictures" to begin taking photos in your local cemetery. The GPS
coordinates will automatically be recorded.
4. Go up and down the rows, taking pictures of each gravestone until you have completed an entire section or the entire cemetery. Keep moving at a quick pace. If you take 1 photo every 15 seconds you will have taken almost 250 photos in an hour!
5. When you are finished, connect to Wi-Fi and tap on the "X" in the corner of your screen. When the orange button that says "upload" appears, tap on it to submit your gravestone photos.
6. Repeat! :)
Stand to the side to avoid casting a shadow.
Remove weeds, grass, or other debris that may block gravestone information.
Be sure the names and dates are inside the photo frame.
Linking Photos with the BillionGraves App
If a gravestone has data on more than one side (for example, parents on one side and children on the other side) there is a way to link them together. Just click on the chain icon in the corner of your screen between each photo that you would like to link (front side, chain icon, backside).
You can use this linking feature for obelisks that have data on four sides. You can also use it to link a large gravestone with a family surname on it to nearby smaller gravestones with the family member's first names on them.
Uploading Your Photos
Be sure your family knows how to upload the photos. It's easy! When you are finished taking photos for the day, you can upload your photos right at the cemetery, if you have unlimited data, or you can wait until you connect to Wi-Fi to upload them.
From the app's camera screen, click on the "X" in the corner of your phone screen. An orange button that says "upload" will appear. Tap it and your photos will automatically be sent to the BillionGraves database to help families find their ancestors for generations to come!
Find a Cemetery to Document
- Click HERE to go to the volunteer page to find a cemetery to document.
- Click on the cemetery you are interested in. A map will appear.
- The orange dots on the map indicate where GPS-linked photos have already been taken. If there are areas with gravestones that have no pins, then your service is needed to photograph that section of the cemetery.
If you are interested in planning a group cemetery event, click HERE.