For the new year we wanted to do something special this week and highlight a guest blogger on BillionGraves today; Jason W. Crews from TheTexasGenealogist.com. `
Jason is a passionate genealogist, born and raised in Grand Prairie Texas. A new volunteer to BillionGraves this last month, he has already spent countless hours volunteering and helping others create projects and help others in their quests to find their families. We are happy to have Jason writing for us today! Take it away Jason!
BillionGraves is the fastest, easiest, and most efficient way to gather headstone data in the world. A single volunteer can collect over 500 images in a just one hour, a well-organized group can photograph an entire cemetery in a single afternoon. The volunteers doing the legwork are the heart of the project!
To spearhead the project, select a project coordinator. It’s important to find a local cemetery that has not already been photographed in order to avoid duplication. To do this, quickly look up the cemetery on BillionGraves Cemetery Search to see if it has already been documented. If you are new to BillionGraves yourself, before you take a large group to the cemetery you should go out and take a few pictures in order to be better able to answer questions. Make sure that all of your volunteer photographers have the BillionGraves app loaded on their iPhone or Android smartphone BEFORE you go to the cemetery.
During the project the project coordinator should NOT take pictures. He/She should organize the group and be available to answer questions and direct the group. Teach your volunteer photographers how to take pictures, link successive images, and upload images.
Volunteers without smartphones can help by clearing grass, flowers or debris off each headstone before each picture is taken. This job is an important one; taking pictures goes much more quickly if the headstones are ready with all the information visible.
Things to remember when planning a project:
- Avoid casting a shadow. When a shadow only covers part of the stone, it can make the part in the shade difficult to read in a photo.
- Avoid the sun if you can. It’s not always possible, but if you can, take photos in indirect light early morning, late evening, or overcast days work best.
- Include all important information in the photo frame. Make sure names, dates, etc. are all included.
- Link together images of each side of the headstone that has information.
- Most importantly, HAVE FUN!!
If you have any questions about starting your own project or feedback, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The holidays are always a time full of symbolism, both religious and secular, so I thought it would be a great time to publish Part 2 of our Headstone Symbolism series. I love discovering and thinking about deeper meanings behind symbols in our lives, I think it’s provides interesting insight into the lives and values of others.
If you missed part one, you can go back and read it here.
Keep in mind, the following definitions are just ideas of what each of these symbols mean. Just because someone (whether that’s the person actually buried there or one of their relatives) chose a certain symbol for this headstone doesn’t mean that’s what it meant to them. But it sure is fun to think about!
Angel: They are typically considered a guardian, messenger, or even a guide to heaven. They are a symbol of spirituality and of resurrection. Angels are said to “guard the tomb, guide the soul, pray for the soul in purgatory, and direct the living visitor to think heavenwards.” (From Cemetery Symbolism; A Wary Glossary)
Ball (Sphere): Usually a symbol of the soul waiting for resurrection.
Lyre: This could mean the person buried here was a musician. A lyre is also a symbol of the connection between heaven and earth. When it has a broken string, it symbolizes the end of life.
Palm Branches: They are typically a Christian symbol of spiritual victory or victory over death. They also could signify eternal peace or a heavenly reward.
Rose: The rose could also be a Christian symbol in that it signifies the blood of Christ. It is also a “reminder that the soul achieves its most perfect state after physical death.” (From Heritage Bulletin)
Weeping Willow: This symbol usually represents what its name implies, sorrow, mourning, nature’s lament, and remembering those that have passed.
Freemason Square and Compass: This symbol signifies a member of the Freemasons or Masons—a fraternal organization. Usually the “G” in the middle either stands for “God” or “Geometry.”
Tree stump (Woodmen of the World): This symbol (which may include an ax, the maul and wedge, and/or a dove of peace with an olive branch) signifies a member of the fraternal insurance society called “Woodmen of the World.” In its beginnings, this organization provided its members with headstones, but that turned out to be too costly. Since Woodmen never “lie,” these tombstones will usually say “Here rests a Woodman of the World.” (See Wikipedia article)
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.