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.
It’s that time of year again when you search for the perfect gifts for family and friends. BillionGraves wants to help you find the perfect gift! That’s why we’re offering this fantastic Cyber Monday discount!
You’ll find lots of great BillionGraves gear for all the genealogy and graving enthusiasts on your list at the BillionGraves store. Just type in the CYBERWEEK13 promo code any time this week and get 40% off your purchase.
This deal is only good until Friday (Dec. 6) at midnight (GMT) so make sure you purchase all your BillionGraves gear now!
How to Win:
|All you need to do to win a prize (see below) is to place in the top 12 transcribers or uploaders on the leaderboard by December 31 at midnight (GMT)!|
|1st||$30 Amazon Gift Card|
|2nd||$20 Amazon Gift Card|
|3rd||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|4th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|5th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|6th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|7th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|8th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|9th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|10th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|11th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
|12th||$10 Amazon Gift Card|
-Make sure you have permission and are welcome to take pictures in your local cemetery before doing so. Remember, private cemeteries require permission of the owner before taking any pictures.
-Winners will be announced at the end of the month on the BillionGraves blog.
-Promotion is open to all to participate for free. Registration is required.
-More than one individual may contribute to a single account, however, the limit is one prize redemption per BillionGraves account.
-Items will ship in 6-8 weeks after contest closes for winners in the U.S. Please allow 8-12 for winners outside the U.S.
-Recipients will be required to provide a mailing address for physical items.
-All images must be uploaded/transcribed no later than midnight (GMT) on December 31, 2013.
Enjoy your time visiting a new (or familiar) cemetery, transcribing photos from around the world, and a HAVE FUN time BillionGraves-ing!
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.
We’ve made a few improvements to the iOS app and wanted to let you know what we’ve changed. Here’s what you’ll be getting when you download the latest version of the app:
- Camera view is “what you see is what you get.” Because the aspect ratio of the picture doesn’t always match the size of the iPhone screen, a lot of users were unintentionally getting their feet and other objects in the picture. We now adjusted that so what you see on your screen is exactly the shot that is taken.
Because of this, you might see a black border around your screen in the camera view (especially if you are on an iPhone 5+). This is normal and will help you be able to take the exact picture you want.
- Display activity view when removing images. If you tap on “Remove all Images” the app now displays a spinner while the images are being removed. This didn’t happen previously and people were confused as to why the app wasn’t working. Now you’ll be able to see that the app is working on removing those images from the app for you.
Just be aware that if you are removing a lot of images, it may take some time to do this.
Some minor bug fixes. There are quite a few bugs we’ve fixed, and here are a few you might notice:
-better handling of indoors mode
-cemetery list now refreshes when you open the cemetery page
-fixed translations for spanish and portuguese in the Transcription view
-magic transcription parsing now works for spanish and portuguese
-and other minor bug fixes
If your phone doesn’t already do it automatically, make sure you download the latest app and happy BillionGraves-ing!