Nicolas and Liam Birch
We completed our project 23 July, 2013. We visited cemeteries in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming (Single Adult group helped out there), others helped us in Nebraska, Texas, Virginia, Arizona and some friends tried in Germany as well.
Our Uncle and Aunt went to Virginia and took Patrick Henry’s grave site (Give me Liberty or Give me Death!!!) and also took Ralph Waldo Emerson’s mothers grave site and Pocahontas’ grave. We also had a single adult group help us in Wyoming! That was awesome! There was 12 or 15 of them helping us.
We went to Plain City Cemetery the weekend before Memorial Day, and several people were there cleaning the graves, we told them what we were doing, and they told us “Congratulations,” “Bless you!” and “You are doing a wonderful thing, thank you!”
Thanks again for this great and rewarding experience!
My name is Jefferson Knight, and I performed my Eagle Project in both the Chinn Cemetery, located in Copper Canyon, Texas, and the Old Alton Cemetery, located in Denton, Texas. To give you an idea of where this is, it is about 40 minutes away from Dallas. My project was officially signed off by Billion Graves on August 21st, 2013.
During the summer of 2012, I wanted to begin on my Eagle Project, as I was a life scout. My mom showed me Billion Graves, and how the website stated this was a great Eagle Project. I never got to actually working on my Eagle Project that summer, and when summer or 2013 came around, I knew this would have to be the summer I complete my Eagle Project, especially since high school was starting next year, and I wouldn’t have any time to complete it during the school year. I thought up many ideas that sounded interesting, but in the end I decided, “Why did I abandon the Billion Graves idea in the first place?!” It was a unique, interesting, and worthwhile Eagle Project that I was interested in. So I began to make plans to perform that Eagle Project.
Upon completing the proposal, all those who needed to sign off on my idea, found it unique and approved. After much planning on my behalf, I split up the project into two phases: a picture taking and uploading phase, as well as a transcribing phase. I recruited a good number of volunteers from my church, and set the dates to perform the project.
Many volunteers found the project interesting as it wasn’t too physically taxing, and also helped serve people for genealogical purposes, which my church very much supports. Both cemeteries had a rich history, and volunteers were able to see that, as they found valuable, and interesting information on the gravestones. For someone who is in the same position as I was, looking for an interesting, worthwhile Eagle Project, I would recommend this kind of project, as it will be very worthwhile (compared to mowing a lawn or something), and is very repeatable! Just find some cemeteries that have not yet been photographed and transcribed near you!
I did my project at the Lyman, Wyoming Cemetery on July 25-26, 2013 with the help of 25 of my family members. I planned my project at that time because we were having a family reunion in Lyman that weekend. It was great to have so much help in photographing all of the remaining headstones in the cemetery.
After I got home, I transcribed dozens of remaining records which took until August 14th (I didn’t work on it every day).
A cool experience from this project was being able to be back in Lyman, Wyoming where my grandmother was raised (she came from a family of 17 children) and to be able to photograph some of their graves.
My name is Thomas Peck, and I did an eagle project for BillionGraves on Saturday, June 15. For my project I had everyone involved meet at a local church. From there we split into two groups: one went to the graveyard with smartphones while the other stayed at the church with laptops and transcribed the images.
One of my brilliant ideas was to get sticky notes and mark the gravestones that had after taking the pictures. The only problem with this was that sticky notes do not stick well to hundred year old headstones. Another brilliant idea was to get some paper and write down the transcription of the gravestone then take a picture of the transcription and link it with the gravestones picture. This was quite effective because it is much simpler to read something on a paper then off a photograph of an ancient gravestone.
One thing I had a problem with was not giving enough instructions. If I did it again I would spend more time giving instructions on how to take pictures.
My name is James Smith and I am currently in Troop 711 in Rockledge, FL. The bulk of my project was completed here in the Florida Memorial Gardens cemetery, but other helpers in Colorado took pictures at one or two cemeteries in Colorado Springs. I completed my project on August 3.
My goal was to get 10,000 pictures and in the end we got over 12,000. This was my second attempt at an eagle project as my other quite literally burned to the ground. I was going to clear brush in Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs for fire mitigation purposes, but the fire beat me to it by about a week.
My advice is to pick a day with good weather. The first day we took pictures, the sun was out, so we had to worry about shadows and it was quite hot. However, the second day it was overcast and we went really quickly.
This was a great project because it can affect so many people for generations.
Nathaniel E. Brandon
I did my project at The Memorial Gardens of the Wasatch, in Ogden, UT
I completed my project on July 20, 2013
This is a fun project, takes lots of time to put together. It is fun once you’re at the cemetery and actively engaged. It is also a very educational experience. A must do for genealogists! It’s a very family friendly project. You learn a lot about people.
These scouts have done some amazing things by serving the families of loved ones buried in these cemeteries! We are so proud of all of you! Congratulations!
Norma Storrs Keating—a professional genealogist for over 20 years—was stumped. She was working on a project for a client named Emmett (name has been changed), but could find no trace of his maternal grandmother.
Emmett has been estranged from his mother for a few years, his father passed away when he was only 10 years old, and his grandfather passed away right before they started the project. Therefore, Norma had no way of getting information from any living relatives.
Through some digging, Norma found out that the lady who lived with Emmett’s family when he was little was not his grandmother like he had thought all these years—it was actually his great-grandmother! It appeared that Emmett’s grandmother had left somehow—whether that was by death or divorce, she didn’t know. No one knew what her name was, where or when she has born, or when she died. She was a mystery!
Norma had hit a pretty substantial brick wall.
So she decided to start finding all the information she could about Emmett’s great-grandmother who died when Emmett was about eight years old. Her family had come from Europe in the early 1900s to Utah where most of them were buried. Norma was able to find their headstones in Utah, their obituaries, and tied them all together but was still lacking any information about Emmett’s grandmother.
Then one day Emmett’s wife called Norma and said, “You’ve got to go to this website and look at this. I think I found her!”
Sure enough, Norma went to BillionGraves where she found that a woman they didn’t know had been buried the middle of a cemetery plot that was occupied by relatives of Emmett’s great-grandmother. The name seemed like it could be her and the death date was just a few days after Emmett’s mother was born.
Based on the evidence pieced together from her headstone and obituary, Norma discovered that Emmett’s grandmother had died 4-5 days after giving birth to Emmett’s mother. That was why she had been raised by her grandmother. And, because of her unexpected death, Emmett’s grandma was buried in the family plot with her husband’s relatives instead of hers.
“I can’t tell you how excited we were!” Norma said.
But that wasn’t all. Because Norma finally had her name and birth dates, she was able to find valuable information from obituaries and other records that helped them trace the family back 4-5 generations to West Virginia. It turned out those relatives were instrumental in settling West Virginia in the 1700s before they migrated to Utah.
“So it totally opened that whole thing up, it was just amazing,” Norma told me. “We had a huge breakthrough just because of BillionGraves!”
This find was especially meaningful to Emmett because he found out that he shared a name with his grandmother. Emmett was his grandmother’s maiden name.
This meant so much to Emmett who hadn’t had a lot of family connections throughout his life. “It gave him a sense of family that he didn’t have before.” Norma said. “It’s opened up a whole new vista for him…and it’s given him a real good sense of who he is.”
The records found on BillionGraves are unique because they are mapped out according to GPS location and can be viewed as if you are standing right there in the cemetery. Without it, Norma would have had to wait until the next time she was in Utah to walk through the cemetery without any guarantee of even finding the right block.
“We never would have found his grandmother’s grave if BillionGraves hadn’t presented the cemetery the way they do,” Norma said, “where we can look at who’s buried around an individual in a visual way.”
Norma uses a couple other headstone databases to search for her clients’ relatives and “all of them approach it from a different view.” She pointed out. “But in this case, [the GPS coordinates on BillionGraves] made a huge, huge difference.”
“I searched Joshua’s Dad’s name on Ancestry.com and found 3 documents that were for sure for him. I was able to find his social security number, and found that it was issued in Michigan in 1980. And through Facebook I’m pretty sure I was able to find his Uncle (Dad’s Brother) in Houston, Texas along with a phone number he had posted on one of his photos. So I’m praying that this story has a very happy outcome and Josh is reunited with his Dad’s side of the family.”
Sure enough, a few days later I received an email from Josh saying that with the help of the blog post, Christie, and a few other people who reached out to him, he had been able to locate his family members on his father’s side. He is so grateful for everyone who helped in his search.
THANK YOU BillionGravers for reaching out and helping Josh find his family. You are truly amazing people.
Connor Murphy (of Houston, Texas) didn’t know he was going to provide the missing link between a father and son when he organized over 30 volunteers to photograph the Calvary Hills Cemetery for his Eagle Scout project. His main goal was to “get all the information from the cemetery out,” Connor told me, “so that if anybody needed it, it could be accessed.”
Josh never knew his father; in fact, he was told that his father was murdered. And that’s about all he knew until a few weeks ago.
Actually, he’s only been able to piece together just a few bits of information throughout the years. No one on Josh’s mother’s side of the family would ever talk about his father, and he never knew any of his father’s family because of it.
Josh was born in Michigan, so he knew his parents were together there for at least some amount of time. His mother did say that his father was a “migrant worker” and that meant his father and family moved around a lot. He was told his father worked on farms and other places in Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, and even helped moved the Texas pipeline at one point.
When he was only 8 years old, his mom told Josh that his dad had been murdered. What the circumstances were of that murder, his mother wouldn’t say.
“I don’t even know if that was true,” Josh admitted, “because of the fact that she always tries to hide information from me about my father’s family and about him. She didn’t like telling me that.”
Josh wasn’t sure what to think until a few years later (at age 16) when he was spending time with his grandmother. She was drunk and accidentally let it slip that his father had, in fact, passed away. This wasn’t the first time Josh heard this, but somehow this time, was different. He was older this time and was able to fully grasp what that meant: he would never know his father.
Shortly after that, Josh moved out and has lived on his own all around the United States (and even in Mexico for a little while) until two months ago when he got married and moved to South Dakota. He has two stepsons with his first child—a baby girl—on the way.
In fact, he was about ready to just give up. But then one day, “for some reason I told myself to try looking again,” Josh said. So he Googled his father’s name and one image taken during Connor’s Eagle project popped up. The name and dates matched what Josh was looking for. He had found his father!
“It meant the world to me when I saw the headstone and realized that it was my dad,” Josh said. “I’m not one to cry, [but] my eyes watered up knowing it was something that I thought I’d never find. It just touched my heart and I would like to thank [Connor], who made it possible.”
When Connor found out what his Eagle project had done for Josh, he said, “Wow, maybe I was meant to do that cemetery.” His original plan was to photograph a cemetery that was closer to where he lived, but it fell through so he chose Calvary Hills.
Perhaps it was meant to be.
Now, thanks to Connor, Josh has a starting point in finding his lost father’s family. He plans to take a trip to Texas as soon as he can. He wants to find out anything he can about his father’s life and see if he can find any living relatives.
“I want them to know they have family too!” Josh says. “Whether it’s a great-niece, or a grandkid, they have them. We’re out here!”
Josh will continue his search for his paternal family, but would love any help he can get. When Josh contacted the funeral director in Texas, she was unable to give Josh any help because it’s been so long since his father’s death. So if you are related or know of anyone who could be related to Bret Alan VanDreumel, please comment below or contact Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You just never know how powerful a picture can be or what it might mean for someone. For Josh, it means that he can start getting to know the father he never had.
“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!