Happy Memorial Day from BillionGraves!
Memorial Day is a day for all of us to reflect on the Veterans who sacrificed their lives to give us our freedom, and gave us a day and a place to honor their memory.
At BillionGraves I have had the very unique opportunity to view hundreds of thousands of pictures of servicemen and women who gave their lives in pursuit and protection of Freedom. Each photograph, preserving a single moment in time of the final resting places of those brave men and women who paid the ultimate price in order for us to have the freedoms that we have today.
Today, I encourage us all to look beyond the photos and to remember the lives, legacies and sacrifices that each of these headstones represent. Every one of these pictures represents a story, a family, a legacy that needs to be remembered and honored.
A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it remembers, the men it honors. -President John F. Kennedy
Regardless of where you live, let us never forget the men and women who have served and who will continue to serve each of us around the world in the pursuit and defense of individual liberty.
Today I personally reflect on the close family members who served and sacrificed in order for me to have the freedoms that I have today. I’m eternally grateful to them and the wonderful examples they have been to me throughout my life!
Have a wonderful and safe Memorial Day!
-The BillionGraves Team
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.
A big thank you to everyone who went out to military cemeteries throughout the country this last weekend and photographed veterans’ headstones. We had a very impressive amount of military images uploaded! We were so thrilled that so many of you took the time and effort give back to our veterans in such a unique way!
Here are our top three uploaders of military records for this weekend:
- JoshDaughetee with 12,014 images
- denis_ashton with 1,668 images
- medfordagent with 1,531 images
Watch your email inboxes to see how to claim your Amazon gift card!
Thanks again everyone for a very special weekend! We know your contributions are making a big difference to all those veterans’ family and friends!
We want to encourage all of you to head out to any military cemeteries near you and start documenting these headstones, especially this weekend! So, we are giving away $25 Amazon gift cards to the top three people who upload the most images from a U.S. Military cemetery this weekend!
Don’t know where the nearest military cemetery is? Find out here.
Let’s do something to let our military veterans know how much we appreciate everything they have done—even if it’s as simple as photographing their headstone.
-Make sure you have permission and are welcome to take pictures in the military cemetery before doing so. We recommend talking to the cemetery caretaker/sexton before taking pictures in ANY cemetery. Remember, private cemeteries require permission of the owner before taking any pictures.
-Winners will be announced at the end of the weekend (November 12) 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 2-3 weeks after contest closes for winners in the U.S.
-Recipients will be required to provide a mailing address for physical items and their choice of which gift card. Please make sure your email is up to date on your BillionGraves account. We will be emailing that address if you are one of our lucky winners!
-All images must be uploaded no later than midnight (GMT) on Monday, November 11.
That’s right, Memorial Day was first proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John A. Logan, National commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. He called it “Decoration Day” when things like flowers should be put on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. He declared it was to be celebrated on May 30 of each year.1
2. All Americans are asked to pause for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3pm on Memorial Day.
On May 2, 2000, Congress passed a resolution that asks Americans to pause “for one minute at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.”2 This was passed in an effort to remind Americans why we celebrate Memorial Day.
3. It is uncertain exactly where and when Memorial Day began.
As mentioned previously, John A. Logan was the first to declare a National “Decoration Day” or Memorial Day, but people began this tradition even before then. More than 5 cities have claimed to be the original beginnings of Memorial day including:
- Columbus, Georgia,
- Columbus, Miss.,
- Boalsburg, Pennsylvania,
- Carbondale, Illinois,
- and Charleston, South Carolina.3
It was in Charleston, South Carolina that on May 1, 1865 thousands of residents gathered to honor those men that had died at Planters’ Race Course—which had been converted into a Confederate prison and burial ground for more than 250 Union soldiers.4 This is one of the first Memorial Day Celebrations that we know of.
Despite the dissidence of where exactly it began, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the original birthplace of Memorial Day to be Waterloo, NY in May 1966. And it was there that they held the “centennial observance of Memorial Day.”5
4. It is tradition to wear a red poppy on Memorial Day.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the Crosses, row on row…
People caught on to the tradition and soon people were selling poppies to benefit war orphans in France and Belgium, or veterans of past wars. She also wrote her own poem in response to John McCrae’s:
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.7
Today, these traditions and historical facts seems to have faded so much that we tend to see Memorial Day as just another 3-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer. But by knowing the history of Memorial day, we CAN remember why we celebrate it in the first place: to honor those who have lost their lives in service to their country and our own family members who made it possible for us to be here today.
1 “Memorial Day History.” USMemorialDay.org. <http://www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.html>.
2 “Speeches.” USMemorialDay.org. <http://www.usmemorialday.org/Speeches/President/may0200.txt>.
3 Robertson, Campbell. “Birthplace of Memorial Day? That Depends Where You’re From.” New York Times. 26 May 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/us/many-claim-to-be-memorial-day-birthplace.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>.
4 Fitzpatrick, Laura. “A Brief History of Memorial Day.”TIME Magazine. 24 May 2009. <http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1900454,00.html>.
5 Johnson, Lyndon B.. “242 – Proclamation 3727 – Prayer for Peace, Memorial Day, 1966.”Presidency.ucsb.edu. The American Presidency Project, 26 May 1966. <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=27618#axzz1vzN2Ip9F>.
6 “Where did the idea to sell poppies come from?”news.bbc.co.uk. BBC News, 10 Nov 2006. Web. 24 May 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6133312.stm>.
7 “Memorial Day History.” USMemorialDay.org. <http://www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.html>.