In transcribing images for BillionGraves as well as other genealogical records, I have been extremely frustrated in trying to decipher blurry, obscured, or faded records. I feel personally responsible when I can’t correctly transcribe an image because I know that means it won’t be accessible for anyone to search for later on. And that’s the whole goal of our project, right?
So I’ve compiled 7 ways you—as as a photographer of these valuable, fading records—can improve every image you take and therefore make both transcribers and genealogists love you forever (and I mean forever)!
1. Frame your photo well.
The headstone you are photographing should fill up as much of the frame as possible without cutting off any of the headstone.
2. Take pictures at the right angle.
The more straight-on your picture is, the better. Taking pictures from any angle besides straight on can distort the words on the headstone and make it nearly impossible to transcribe. For upright monuments, bend down to get a better angle for the picture.
3. Link images correctly.
Some headstones are either too large or are actually made up of two connected headstones. If this is the case, take a picture of the WHOLE headstone first, then take close ups on the different sections of the stone.
MAKE SURE the little chain link in the bottom left corner of your screen is highlighted in blue before taking the close ups!
4. Avoid taking blurry images.
Allow your camera to focus before clicking the green picture button. It’s very tempting to rush through the picture taking process in order to capture more images, but make sure you’re not forfeiting your images because you’re going too fast.
5. Clear off any debris before you take the picture.
Make sure you set aside any decorations and remove any of the debris/growth that is covering up any part of the headstone (you might want to take some grass clippers with you).
And don’t forget to move your feet out of the picture!
6. Make sure the lighting is right.
The best time to take pictures is when the sky is slightly overcast. Different times of the day are better for taking pictures of certain kinds of headstones. In any case, pay attention to how light or dark your picture is. Schedule your trips to the cemetery when the lighting is right and beware of shadows—including your own!
Helpful hint: Consider taking an umbrella, flashlight, mirror, or grab the sunshade from your car to either block out the harsh sunlight or to reflect some light on the back side of headstones that are in the shadows.
7. View your images before you leave the cemetery.
Don’t forget to make sure they turned out okay! This is the equivalent of checking your answers before you turn in your test: go back and review your photos so every record on BillionGraves will get an A for Accuracy!
What things have you found make the best pictures? Anything I missed? I’d love to hear from both photographers AND transcribers!
Winter is in the air at BillionGraves!
The BillionGraves team wishes you the best during this holiday season and hopes that it is full of family, friends, and warm memories. This truly is the most wonderful time of the year!
After the holiday rush is over, you don’t have to stop giving! Give the gift of family records!
It’s really quite simple; while you have time off and all the family is still around, take them BillionGraves-ing!
Here is one way we found makes BillionGraves a fun group activity:
- Find a cemetery near you and plan a short excursion to go visit it with your family.
- Once there, find a section of the cemetery that hasn’t already been done.
- Set a group goal as to how many pictures or what area you want to finish as a group.
- Make it fun! See how many pictures your group can take in your allotted time.
- Remind those members of your family that they can put those new gadgets they got for Christmas to good use!
And don’t forget, if it’s too cold outside to go take pictures, snuggle up by the fireplace and transcribe some images. Go all out—break out the hot cocoa too!
Not only will you create meaningful memories with your own family, but you will create lasting records for other families as well. And who knows, maybe you’ll find some of your own relatives in the process!
The great thing about BillionGraves is that it’s a team project. So grab your smartphones or tablets, gather up the family who are tired of hanging around the house and go get some fresh air with BillionGraves!
To take photos for BillionGraves, all you really need is you phone, right? True, but you won’t regret having a few extra items with you to make your trip to the cemetery as smooth as silk. We’ve compiled a list of suggestions for you to pack in a light backpack or bag. As long as you have your BillionGraves backpack, you’ll never have to leave the cemetery!
What to pack in your BillionGraves backpack (besides your phone, of course):
- Water for drinking
- Water for wetting down old stones for readability
- A hat
- Phone charger for your car (and be sure your phone is fully charged, too!)
- Work gloves for cleaning off headstones
- Small pad and pen, in case you want to note a hard-to-read stone and write down the transcription
- Broom and dustpan set for cleaning off headstones
- A sheet or umbrella to create shade over headstones
Any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!
Happy Memorial Day weekend to those in the US! At a time when we pause to remember those who fought for our freedom, we visit our cemeteries and show our love with tokens and kind words. In honor of Memorial Day, some members of the BillionGraves team put together a fun video about finding your ancestors’ headstones using BillionGraves.
You may have seen the good news: the BillionGraves Index is now available through FamilySearch! Now when you conduct a search on FamilySearch, BillionGraves data will be included in the results. You can also choose to search through just the BillionGraves Index, if you want to narrow your results. BillionGraves is a great genealogical resource, and we’re excited to have this new avenue to access our GPS-encoded headstone data. FamilySearch also provided a great article about getting started with BillionGraves on their blog last week.
A Few Clarifications
We’ve been checking the comments on some message boards and we want to clarify two things:
1. The data on BillionGraves is created by the public. We respect that and we intend to always make the database free for the public to use.
2. You don’t necessarily need a data plan to use BillionGraves. We’ve looked into the $150 Samsung Galaxy Player, which has GPS, WiFi, and a camera, and it works great. You won’t be able to see that you’re in a specific cemetery, but don’t worry, we’ll take care of that on our end, and your pictures will be added to the correct cemetery.
Don’t forget to check the Leaderboard this weekend to see what you need to do to get on it! (Or stay on it, if you’re already there.) Have a great weekend and keep adding photos for Million More in May!
Wow! We’ve had record uploads every day so far in May! Keep up the good work—we’ll still need thousands more images, so let’s make the weekends our highest uploading days. Keep watching that Leaderboard to see how you’re doing—if you are among the top 25 transcribers OR picture takers on May 31, you get your choice of a free BillionGraves t-shirt or one free year of our great BillionGraves Plus Account.
It’s more fun to head to the cemetery with other people—plus, you can photograph an entire cemetery in just a few hours if you join forces!
Create a Facebook event to help you get the word out to your friends and family. You’ll be able to set up a meeting time and location for everyone to meet up and take pictures.
Facebook’s instructions on how to create an event:
- Go to the Events tab on the left side of your home page
- Click Create Event in the upper-right corner of the page
From here, you can customize the event, edit its privacy settings and invite guests. Please note that you must include an event name and time. For more information about Facebook events, click here.
Here is a template you can use to tell your friends and family about your event and answer some of the questions they may have:
Come join me at the cemetery to clean, photograph and document grave markers!
We will be photographing the headstones using the free BillionGraves iPhone and Android application.
What should I bring?
Bring your iPhone, Android phone or tablet (must have GPS), or your 3G iPad2 or 3G iPad3 (the 3G internet versions have GPS, the WiFi only do not have GPS), fully charged with the BillionGraves app already installed (download links are down below). Bring your car charger if you have one (GPS uses a lot of battery).
Register for an account and/or log in to the app before coming.
Do I need an iPhone or Android phone?
No. Many times the vital information on the grave markers are covered with grass clippings, leaves, flowers, pinwheels, or other decorations. We could use help clearing the markers of these items, so a photograph can be taken, then put the decorations back as they were.
If you do not have a device to take pictures with:
- Bring a soft broom or car snow brush to clean off grass and leaves.
- Bring a pair of gloves just in case a headstone has mud covering parts of it and needs the mud/dirt cleared off by hand.
- Bring a blanket to cast a shadow on gravestones that are facing the sun. The picture taker’s shadow and the reflection of the sunlight can make it difficult to read the vital information on the headstone.
- Bring your children. This is an excellent opportunity to help your children develop an appreciation for family history.
- You can also borrow a device from a willing friend or family member.
Can I use my digital camera?
Not to take pictures of the headstones, but you can bring one to document our activity and your family’s participation in this great work. There are other grave-finding websites that accept photos taken without GPS coordinates, but BillionGraves is the only service that has that important information.
More about BillionGraves
The BillionGraves apps are easy to use and free to install on your iOS and Android devices. The app geotags each picture you take with the exact GPS coordinates of the gravestone, making it a valuable resource for genealogy and family history enthusiasts searching for their ancestors. After taking the photos, you will upload the pictures to the BillionGraves.com website where thousands of volunteers are transcribing the images almost as quickly as they are added. Transcribing is also free. Once the records are transcribed, they are available to be searched, for free of course, by anybody who visits the BillionGraves.com website. Users can also find the exact, physical locations of their ancestors’ final resting places, and the app will actually direct them to their locations.
We hope to see as many people as possible attend. With enough participants, we can easily photograph the entire cemetery. Thank you!