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.”
Louisa May Alcott, famous American writer and women’s rights advocate, is buried in what has been dubbed “Author’s Ridge” in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. She was born in November 29, 1832 and died early at the age of 53.
Despite her family’s poor financial situation, Louisa became a talented writer and learned from the greatest writers of the time including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller.
Her most famous work, Little Women, was so popular, she wrote two sequels afterward called Little Men and Jo’s Boys that followed the lives of the four March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The book is loosely based on Louisa’s own family which was also made up of four sisters, although Little Women took a more idealistic approach than what actually happened to the Alcott sisters.
Alcott’s life was cut short due to a chronic illness that historians believe was attributed to the mercury treatment she received when she contracted Typhoid fever or an autoimmune disorder that may have been Lupus. She died two days after her father’s death and was buried next to him and (later) the rest of her sisters.
How to add a cemetery to BillionGraves from the website:
1. Make sure someone has not already added the cemetery to the database. You can do this by searching for that cemetery (using location in the search will be very helpful) on the search page. This will ensure there are no duplicate cemeteries.
2. Click on the “Tools” tab and click “Add Cemetery.”
5. Verify the cemetery location on a map. From here, you will be able to drag around the pin to place it right where the cemetery is on the map.
How to add a cemetery from your phone:
1. Tap on the “Cemeteries” button. Make sure you have logged into your account through the app already (you should only need to do this once).
3. Fill in the information for the cemetery and tap “Save.” Again, you can either add the location by street address, or just tap the “Use My Location” button if you are currently standing in the cemetery.
How to Edit a Cemetery:
1. Click on the blue “Edit” link underneath the address on the cemetery page. This will pop up a window you can edit the cemetery information in.
Keep in mind that whatever cemetery you add or edit will always be submitted to the BillionGraves team for further review and to ensure accuracy.
Have you ever stopped to take a look at what you find on headstones besides names and dates?
Cemeteries are filled with symbolism that you may not even realize at first glance. As I payed close attention to the symbols on the headstones around me during my last visit to the cemetery, I was fascinated by what I found. These simple symbols are very thought provoking and gave me a deeper understanding of the people who are buried there.
You never know why people choose to put certain symbols on their headstone, but here are some symbols you might find on a headstone and a few ideas of what they might mean:
Hands: These are very common on headstones. Clasped hands (like the ones found in this picture) may mean a farewell, a welcoming into the heavenly world, a symbol of marriage. In this stone, one sleeve appears more feminine and the other masculine which is most likely a symbol of marriage.
Star: Could represent spiritual light, divine guidance or birth/rebirth. In Judaism, the star of David represents divine protection. In Christianity, it sometimes represents “light shining in darkness” or good overpowering evil.
So next time you’re in the cemetery, take a look at the symbols around you. They just might give you some interesting insight into the people who are buried there.
What neat cemetery symbols have you come across? Comment below or send me a picture! I’d love to see what you’ve found!
The summer months are coming to a close here at BillionGraves and that means it’s time for one last summer competition! Let the image rush begin!
The goal this month is to get as many images as possible while the weather’s still good and before school starts up again. So get the whole family out this month and take pictures while you still can!
How to Win:
All you have to do to win one of our great prizes (see below) is to be in the top 15 on the leaderboard by August 31 at midnight (GMT)!
The top 3 uploaders will receive a “BillionGraves Top Contributor” fanny pack complete with waterbottle holder, 8 card holder, 2 pen loops, and a key clip inside. It’s the perfect pack to take with you to the cemetery!
-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 no later than midnight (GMT) on August 31.
Enjoy your time visiting a new (or familiar) cemetery, take lots of pictures, and HAVE FUN BillionGraves-ing!