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.”
“How?” You might ask. I was determined to find that out as I met up with them on a sunny, summer day at the Salt Lake City, Utah Cemetery.
While Kristiana snapped some pictures of her great-great-Grandfather—George King—and his family members nearby, her four sons skipped off to explore that section of the cemetery.
George King was a “Woodman of the World” and made it from Maine to Utah while working on the Union Pacific railroad. So we met and talked near his headstone as Kristiana snapped a few pictures for BillionGraves.
Pretty soon, 10-year-old Cameron came back from wandering and proudly announced that he had found the headstone of a pilot. His excitement was contagious, so both eight-year-old Dallin and I followed him over to see his great find. Sure enough, Cameron had found a headstone of a B24 pilot who had served in World War II.
“I’m the military genius of the family,” he told me.
“But both of us are interested in Star Wars” Dallin interjected.
I was pretty surprised about Cameron’s enthusiasm, but then he explained to me that on his mother’s side, his great-grandfather McCurdy was stationed in London during World War II and had a brother named Bill who was a B17 gunner and was lost in action.
I was blown away, these boys—all under the age of 12—could talk about their family history so easily!
Once we returned to the section where Kristiana was taking pictures, I just had to ask how she did it. How did she manage to get 4 boys all under the age of 12 to love genealogy?
“It’s just in our blood,” she said.
However, with a little more probing, Kristiana told me how when she was Cameron’s age, she would haul her dad’s big legal-sized book of remembrance to the kitchen table and hand-copy family tree charts and group records for her own book. She loved that she shared a name with her 4th-great-grandmother.
Kristiana carried that passion with her throughout her life, even when her oldest son, Alex, was very small. Her husband worked odd hours so on mornings he was home, he would take care of Alex for a little while and would drop Kristiana off at the Family History Library. When the boys would come pick her up, she would always tell them of her latest findings during her time there.
She felt like she needed to keep working on her family history even though life got even more crazy as her family grew and she began homeschooling them. It just became natural for her to bring up family history as she continued to work on it.
“I think we just talk about it a lot,” she explained. “We just talk about people, we make it sound fun and we decorate with family history items; we have old pictures on the walls. We’ve got a watercolor of St. Paul’s church in Halifax, Nova Scotia where their 4th great-grandfather was married when he came from England.”
In addition to being surrounded by family decorations, Kristiana finds ways to tie in family stories into what the boys are learning while she homeschools them.
“It makes it so much more real,” she said “because we’re talking about the Mayflower and I [say something] like ‘Oh and you had an ancestor—Miles Standish—[who was on the Mayflower]. That’s your grandfather 11-generations back!”
When they learned about World War II, the family interviewed their grandparents about what it was like to live during that time. “I’ve got video of [my two grandfathers] talking about their experiences, and we talked to my Grandma about living through rationing in World War II. She hated it because they rationed shoes and she loved shoes.”
Needless to say, history is their family’s favorite subject. “It’s hard to separate family history from world history and American history. I’ve really been able to show that as we’ve studied history.”
What do the boys say about it? “It’s like a puzzle—something to solve. And we love puzzles!”
Kristiana believes in a principle she read in an article in the New York Times that said when children know their family’s stories and where they came from, they are more resilient and can handle trials better. Kristiana found this to be true as her four handicapped siblings passed away over a period of seven years.
Kristiana’s mother said that one way she was able to deal with it was because she read her grandma’s life history in which her grandmother wrote about her mother losing 4 children of her own.
“My mother said ‘Knowing that my great-grandma went through that, maybe I can too.’ And it strengthened her to know that,” Kristiana explained. If there’s one thing that Kristiana wants in life, it’s that her children will be able find strength to brave hardships in life through knowing their family’s stories.
Although Kristiana’s stage of life isn’t typically the time of life that most people associate with genealogy, she says that “as we are in the process of raising children, our lives have been enriched to find out our heritage now.”
Through sharing her love of genealogy with her children through simple, every-day interactions, she has been able to successfully help her children realize that they belong to and are part of something bigger than themselves. They love doing their family history and they know that Genealogy is definitely not just for Grandmas!
To find out more about Kristiana’s genealogy projects, visit her Samuel Goodwin Family Genealogy blog. Do you agree with Kristiana? Comment below and let us know what you think!
Today we want to highlight an experience shared by Geniaus, a great Australian genealogy blogger. She shared her experience with BillionGraves on her blog recently, and she is so gracious as to let us share that post with you!
On our recent trip we travelled back to Sydney via a few towns where some ancestors buried.
One of the cemeteries I had previously visited in Cobar many years ago but the images I had taken of my grandparents’ headstones were poor quality. I wanted to rephotograph these and also look for other family resting spots. The two other cemeteries where I managed to find some family graves, in Broken Hill and Forbes, were new to me.
Locating the graves in each of these sites wasn’t particularly easy. In Cobar and Forbes there was no resource available to pinpoint the graves’ exact location; the map of Broken Hill Cemetery that was available by the Cemetery gate was quite confusing even for Mr Geniaus who is not spatially challenged like me.
|Ben Hall the Bushranger – Forbes Cemetery|
In order to make it easy for cousins who may be seeking these graves in the future I added each of them to Billiongraves. The GPS coordinates that Billiongraves attaches to these images will make finding them in the future much easier for those who make use of the Billiongraves site or app.
As we were on a tight time schedule I could not commit myself to photographing all of the graves in each of these cemeteries. I did, however, take and upload a few rows of headstones around the graves I was visiting in Cobar and Broken Hill.
In less than half an hour I was able to photograph over 100 images in Cobar cemetery. These are now available on Billiongraves site; those who wish to visit these graves can use the GPS coordinates to locate them efficiently.
How about joining and downloading the Billiongraves app to your Android or other device so that you can contribute to the database when you find yourself (above ground) in a cemetery. While in a cemetery take some time to photograph a row or two of graves. This is a painless and enjoyable way of helping others connect with their ancestors.
Thanks for being part of the BillionGraves effort, Geniaus! Go check out her blog to get some great advice on your genealogy work. And use her experience as motivation to take more pictures. After all, we all benefit from this volunteer effort.
An index for the 1940 census does not yet exist, but FamilySearch is providing a way for volunteers to index the census so that it can be searchable and available to the public. The indexing project will greatly improve your ability to research the wealth of information included in the census, so to expedite the indexing process, you can join the volunteer effort! Visit the FamilySearch website to get started. You can also sign up on the 1940 Census website.
When you need a break from indexing the Census, head out to your local cemetery for some fresh air and snap some pictures while you’re there! It’s always exciting to have access to new research like the 1940 Census, and when you document a cemetery for the BillionGraves database, you are providing new and valuable research for people all over the world.
Besides the obvious excitement of gaining access to new family history research, the hubbub surrounding the release of the 1940 census is the fact that there are many people alive today who are actually included on it. Babies born in 1940 are only in their early 70s now, and their parents could still be alive as well. When you study the census, you’ll be able to make important family connections as well as find occupations, immigration data, and locations for your own relatives.
You can access the 1940 Census at these sites: