Happy Memorial Day from BillionGraves!
Memorial Day is a day for all of us to reflect on the Veterans who sacrificed their lives to give us our freedom, and gave us a day and a place to honor their memory.
At BillionGraves I have had the very unique opportunity to view hundreds of thousands of pictures of servicemen and women who gave their lives in pursuit and protection of Freedom. Each photograph, preserving a single moment in time of the final resting places of those brave men and women who paid the ultimate price in order for us to have the freedoms that we have today.
Today, I encourage us all to look beyond the photos and to remember the lives, legacies and sacrifices that each of these headstones represent. Every one of these pictures represents a story, a family, a legacy that needs to be remembered and honored.
A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it remembers, the men it honors. -President John F. Kennedy
Regardless of where you live, let us never forget the men and women who have served and who will continue to serve each of us around the world in the pursuit and defense of individual liberty.
Today I personally reflect on the close family members who served and sacrificed in order for me to have the freedoms that I have today. I’m eternally grateful to them and the wonderful examples they have been to me throughout my life!
Have a wonderful and safe Memorial Day!
-The BillionGraves Team
BillionGraves is going behind the scenes to give you a sneak peak of the people who volunteer their time and effort for the BillionGraves project. BillionGraves is a community of truly amazing people and we want to help you get to know each other through through our “Spotlight Saturday” posts. Everyone has interesting insight of why they contribute and we can all learn great things from others!
Meet Charlene Boyd, one of our top picture-takers and transcribers for over a year now. She graciously let us interview her and here are some of the interesting things we found out about her.
What makes taking pictures in cemeteries/doing genealogy so interesting for you?
Thirty plus years ago I first became interested in genealogy through researching my own family tree. Back then there was much more work involved in research because there was no internet and you had to travel to the cemeteries and the Archives and History Centers to research your family.
After a few years I found that I enjoyed helping people piece together information and find family members through research and posting cemetery information on other websites. Today I find a real love of cemeteries through their art and history. I take my time with each cemetery getting to know the landscape and the history, finding unique treasures in each one.
How did you get started doing BillionGraves?
I found out about BillionGraves through a genealogy discussion group on Facebook. I started out transcribing other people’s headstone photos on BillionGraves because I didn’t have a smart device that was capable of taking the photos. Later I purchased a tablet device and began taking photos at all the cemeteries in my locale.
Why do you like contributing to BG?
Why do I enjoy visiting and taking photos of headstones and cemeteries? I don’t exactly know how I started because I have been doing it for so long.
When searching my family history I have found that sometimes a headstone is the only means I have to document that relative’s birth and death, or even existence. It is very important to me that this is something that is never lost due to time or neglect. Cemeteries tell so much about our history and it is up to us to listen to their stories. I have had so many people help me by posting photos, family trees and their research online that I feel that this is my way of paying them back.
I also want to help and encourage others to do the same. Doing this has also sparked my interest in not only taking photos to share, but also wanting to learn more about restoring and preserving cemeteries. Headstones can tell us more than the birth and death sometimes if we are lucky they might tell us how this person died, their occupation if they were a member of any groups (religious or otherwise) who they married, and who their children were.
My family calls me obsessed, because anytime we go somewhere my first thought is: Are there any cemeteries close by that we can visit? Sometimes they go with me willingly and other times kicking and screaming.
Have you had any special/interesting experiences while using BillionGraves that you would like to share?
My best experience in cemetery research would be the time I met a cousin online while doing research on my Baker line. Through emails over time we shared information, later on I was invited to a Baker reunion in Oklahoma. I had been searching my Baker line and reached a brick wall.
My cousin invited me to a family reunion in Oklahoma. Through this visit I was able to visit my great-great-great grandfather’s grave; Thomas Winfield Baker, buried in Indian Territory Checotah Cemetery, Checotah, Oklahoma. Standing in a cemetery seeing his marker and knowing his history made it more real for me. I also found photos of Thomas Winfield Baker and his wife Mary Ann ‘Polly’ Long Baker, and received a copy of their family bible, because of the connections I made at the reunion.
Do you have any advice you would give to other people using BG?
BillionGraves is one site that offers you two ways to contribute. You can transcribe headstones; take photos of headstones or do both. So if you are not able to travel to a cemetery you can sit at your computer and transcribe. Either way, please know that both are important and help so many people.
Taking photos is very easy by using their app, just a click of the camera, (using a camera phone or tablet camera). Your photo is uploaded to their site with GPS tracking information included.
I am very grateful for BillionGraves they have made me feel like part of their team and I want to pass that along.
Thanks, Charlene, for all you do! We couldn’t do it without you!
Paul Smith (also known as “Graving Guy” at his local historical society) has found a LOT of interesting things in cemeteries. Most of them he wasn’t even looking for in the first place.
“For me, that’s the big advantage of doing the photographing. I mean, you never know who you’ll find.”
Paul loves going out and taking pictures in cemeteries then going home and researching some of the people he found that day. Usually he’ll have specific people he’s looking for but sometimes, he says,
“When I get to the cemeteries, I find people I’m not looking for.”
Paul lived in over 20 different places as a child, but ended up in Wichita, Kansas. Although he didn’t have any familial connections when he first moved to Wichita, he was determined to find at least one.
That was the case last year when he came across Mary Jeffries’ headstone. When Paul looked her up, much to his surprise she was the daughter to Sarah Swartz, Paul’s great-grandfather’s sister.
He had found his great-grandfather’s niece and his own Wichita connection without even knowing it!
After researching Mary Jeffries, Paul found out she had a grandson whose burial records had been lost in a funeral home fire. His grave hadn’t been photographed by anyone yet, so Paul had no idea what cemetery he could be in.
“The odds of me finding him anytime soon [were very slim],” Paul said. “I figured if I were to ever find him, I would have to stumble upon him.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Paul was actually looking for another headstone in the White Chapel cemetery in Wichita, Kansas when he looked down and saw Hiram Jeffries’ headstone. He was absolutely thrilled!
As he’s out in the cemeteries, sometimes Paul will talk to the cemetery staff and find out more about the people buried there. That’s how he found the grave of Solomon Butler, the first African-American from Kansas to compete in the Olympics.
“I find that just being respectful to them oftentimes can help break the ice. And another thing I’ve done…is develop a relationship with them. I sometimes just go and visit and I’ve also offered to help. That helps build a better relationship with them. So it’s not always just me going in and saying ‘Hey I can’t find this grave.’ It shows that you care about them as people and it’s respecting what they do.
That won’t always guarantee that you can get around if they have a no-photograph policy but maybe you can build up a trust to see that you’re there to do more than take photographs.”
Paul also suggested that anyone taking pictures should always check all sides of the headstones. He hasn’t always photographed all sides of the headstone, but one day he came across this on the back of a headstone and was amazed at the story it told:
Paul has a special respect and is always on the lookout for veterans because both his father and brother were veterans. One of his most memorable finds was this monument for Father Kapaun—a chaplain for the United States Army who died as a prisoner of war in Korea. He was buried in Korea, but has been honored and remembered with a couple memorials in Kansas.
Paul has found dozens of treasures just by exploring the cemeteries near his home and researching the people he finds there. His dedication is remarkable and he is truly making a difference in his corner of the world—just ask anyone who found a picture of their family member’s headstone because of him!
These incredible stories are just a few examples of treasures anyone can find in their local cemetery. All it takes is a little curiosity, time, and a love for those who have gone before us.
Lyle Clugg was so excited about BillionGraves when he first attended a class about it two years ago that he went out and bought a smartphone the next month.
“The whole reason why I got a smartphone was because of what I heard at that seminar at RootsTech.” Lyle said, “I thought this is just the perfect application… I have used so many other pieces of information from [a lot of other sources] so I thought this would be the perfect way for me to pay it forward and make information available for other people.”
And talk about paying it forward; Lyle has now uploaded over 25,000 pictures.
Lyle loves doing family history and traveling all over the country researching his own family. So while he’s out traveling, he usually fits in some BillionGraves-ing too.
His latest trip was to Oregon where he took over 2,000 pictures with BillionGraves. Every night when he would stop, he would find the local cemetery to take pictures.
How does his wife feel about his hobby? “She goes shopping while I take pictures” Lyle says.
He may not have his wife sold on BillionGraves yet, but he has taken a few trips with his daughter to some cemeteries. She lives in the Chicago area, so a few times when he’s gone out to visit, she’ll go with him to nearby cemeteries. They were even able to locate Lyle’s great-grandmother’s grave on one specific trip together.
“She’s not as addicted as I am,” he admitted. “But she does have a lot, she has 5,000-6,000 names.”
One of the most interesting moments Lyle’s had was once when he got caught in a cemetery during a sudden rain and windstorm blew through. Lyle took refuge under a tree to wait out the storm. The wind was so loud, Lyle didn’t hear a hundred-year-old tree about 50 yards away blow over. A few minutes later when the storm was over, Lyle found the tree and told me “Now we know the answer to the age old question – when a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” I guess not!
One might wonder why Lyle spends so much time taking pictures in cemeteries. Lyle even told me sometimes when he’s out there in a cemetery, he wonders “Why am I doing this? I’ve been out here for 6 hours, I’m starving!”
But every once in a while Lyle will get messages from people much like the one he received yesterday saying
“You found my family’s graves. I live California. Lost my father as a child, and lost the family history with him. So amazing to find my great-grandmother’s grave, [as well as two of her children’s graves]. THANK YOU! I saw their graves. Made my day.”
That’s when he realizes “Okay, THAT’s why I’m doing this. It’s helpful and it will be helpful for the next couple of years. It’s not just this week that we’re concerned about.”
That is what it’s all about. It’s people like Lyle that are selfless and generous with their time who make the BillionGraves project worthwhile. That pay-it-forward mentality is what helps BillionGraves change lives.
Not very many people can say they visited a cemetery for their wedding anniversary, but Colette Hokanson can. In fact, last year’s anniversary was her first time taking pictures for BillionGraves; she and her husband downloaded it before dinner and then visited the their local cemetery afterwards.
They enjoyed it so much, they visited 3 more cemeteries that very weekend.
Colette was hooked on BillionGraves. She continued taking pictures for BillionGraves throughout the next year with her family on Saturday mornings and occasionally on family trips. Each time she passes a cemetery, she begs her family to let her stop so they can take pictures.
One day, a friend asked Colette if she had any suggestions for an upcoming “Day of Service” their church had planned. Colette told her about BillionGraves and her friend loved the idea. They set it up so each congregation would be in charge of taking photos at different cemeteries throughout Oregon and northern California.
They held their “Day of Service” on September 14th, 2013 and had over 327 volunteers from 7 congregations participated in photographing 8 cemeteries. Together, they ended up taking over 17,000 photographs and were featured in an article in their local paper the next morning.
“The thing that was really cool was just to see all the people that all of a sudden got turned onto finding out more about their family.” Colette said. “It’s interesting how when you’re out there taking pictures. It turns your heart, you [think] ‘Wow, these were real people. I want to learn more about my family; where are they buried?'”
But that wasn’t only great thing that happened that day.
Colette’s congregation was assigned to the Central Point Cemetery because she knew she had a great-uncle (John Daley) buried there and she wanted to find where he was at. She instructed everyone to keep an eye out for any headstones with the name “Daley.” Coincidentally enough, her husband found her uncle’s headstone surrounded by some of his family members.
However, after they had finished taking photographs, one of Colette’s friends—Kristina—said she found two babies’ headstones in the corner of the cemetery with the last name of Daley: Daisy Bell Daley and Victor Hugo Daley. Colette hurried home to research if they were related and sure enough, Daisy was a grandchild to Colette’s great-uncle John.
Colette was amazed. “I would not have found her if we wouldn’t have done this,” she said, “because she was born [and died] in between censuses.”
But the miracles didn’t stop there!
Colette went home and did more research on that side of the family and found out that she had even more relatives than she knew about buried in her area. As she discovered more grandkids of her great-uncle John, she looked up where they were buried and found that one of them was on BillionGraves.
“I thought ‘Oh my gosh, someone took their picture!'” Colette recounted, “And I looked and it was me! I took the picture last year when I first got that app and I had no idea that I was taking a picture of one of my family members. It took me taking a picture in another cemetery (of Daisy Bell) to go and continue to search… It [was] just so, so amazing, so fantastic!”
Not only was she able to find her own relatives through the pictures she took, but she also helped a friend find his relatives too. As she was helping him find out more information about his grandparents, she suggested they look on BillionGraves to see what they could find. When they did, they found out that his grandparents were buried nearby AND that her husband had taken that picture.
“It was just a little miracle to think that about 7 months before we had taken pictures in a cemetery and it turned out to be the grandparents of a friend of ours.” She said. “I thought ‘how coincidental.’ If you want miracles, go take pictures for BillionGraves! Download the app so you can have miracles in your own life.”
Her advice to anyone is to “Always keep BillionGraves in mind” when you’re traveling anywhere. “Make time on family vacations or on a Saturday to take a few pictures. Make time to stop and take your kids—my kids love it! If we don’t stop and take pictures of these cemeteries, we don’t know how much longer some of these headstones will last…”
“Just do it—even if it’s only a few headstones.” She said. “You never know what impact it will have on someone’s life.”