Guest Blog Post BY PATRICK WILLIAMS:
When I was a young child, I learned about Genealogy from my Grandmother. My teachers and leaders at church would always talk about it. Growing up as a Mormon, it was talked about a lot in regards to Temple work and the action of “Redeeming the Dead”. As soon as they started talking about “Genealogy” I would automatically tune out!
So my fellow Genealogy nuts, lets talk about the 5 reasons why your Grandma-ma wants you to do Genealogy and why we will convince all the cool Hipsters to stop hanging out on Instagram, and start hanging out on BillionGraves instead!
#5- Genealogy work is just so boringggggggggg!
Oh contraire! This couldn’t be further from the truth. Do me a solid, and go ask your Grandparents, or your parents about how they met. Go ask them about their parents or their great grand parents. The stories that they will tell you about where you came from will not only blow your mind, but they will give you such a great appreaction for your heritage and your own very blood line.
When we read about the hardships, tragedies, and triumphs of our ancestors, it makes us realize how relatively easy we have it, and how fortunate we are. And it gives us a real sense of debt and gratitude.
#4 Why do the Genealogy agony?
Because it gives YOU a lever to pry simple questions about you out of your own parents. What do you and your parents have in common here? We now know that, if the family history is to be saved at all, this late, with the old folks passing on, the time is now or never, and we want to save what we can while we can.
If, years from now, someone in the next generation wants to REALLY dig into the family stuff, at least we must give him or her a good, solid, scaffolding from which to begin, preferably with lots of interesting family stories too.
# 3 where do I even start?
This can be the most difficult question, but with amazing resources such as BillionGraves it makes starting very easy. How easy is it you ask?? You can install the genealogy camera app on your iPhone, android or GPS-enabled phone to record grave marker locations worldwide! You can Transcribe & Search grave images for free on the Billiongraves.com website! That’s just as easy as posting a picture of your food from Café Rio you took the other day with the hashtag #soyummy!
What started out as a “simple” project has now become all consuming. One of the nicest things to happen from this research is how you can spend hours and hours talking to your parents about your “finds” as opposed to talking about their health. The bottom line is I now enjoy playing detective and sharing my finds with any and all relatives who care to have the information.
#2 I would rather text and take pictures on Instagram!
Ok all you “hipster” kids. Do me a favor, take out your phone and search for the #hashtag #graves on Instagram and or Facebook or Twitter. You will be amazed at all of the amazing photos and rich history of the Millions and Millions of gravestones that are being uploaded on a daily and hourly basis.
Just to give you an idea of how cool and fun this work is, Genealogy websites are receiving millions and millions of hits every single day!
#1 I don’t want to learn about my family!
Now, in my humble opinion, this is just plain dumb. After everything is said and done in this life, all we have is our family and maybe a few close friends.
How people went from one side of our country to the other with the slow moving vehicles–how they existed–what their trials, loves, and happiness’s were, etc.
So all my “Hipster” friends- it’s very simple and easy to get started. Pick up your iPhone and go to www.billiongraves.com and get started today!
What where are some challenges and questions you may have had when you first got started doing this work? Please leave your comments below! Let’s start a great conversation!
If you have any questions about starting your own project or feedback, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Patrick Williams
Patrick Williams is an SEO Specialist and avid Blogger. When not slaving over google search results and building links to the god’s of the internet, Patrick is a single dad to an adorable little boy. He also coaches high school soccer, and is an avid sports fan. He also has many leather bound books, that smell of rich mahogany. He is also fluent in the Cambodian language.
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.
Lyle Clugg was so excited about BillionGraves when he first attended a class about it two years ago that he went out and bought a smartphone the next month.
“The whole reason why I got a smartphone was because of what I heard at that seminar at RootsTech.” Lyle said, “I thought this is just the perfect application… I have used so many other pieces of information from [a lot of other sources] so I thought this would be the perfect way for me to pay it forward and make information available for other people.”
And talk about paying it forward; Lyle has now uploaded over 25,000 pictures.
Lyle loves doing family history and traveling all over the country researching his own family. So while he’s out traveling, he usually fits in some BillionGraves-ing too.
His latest trip was to Oregon where he took over 2,000 pictures with BillionGraves. Every night when he would stop, he would find the local cemetery to take pictures.
How does his wife feel about his hobby? “She goes shopping while I take pictures” Lyle says.
He may not have his wife sold on BillionGraves yet, but he has taken a few trips with his daughter to some cemeteries. She lives in the Chicago area, so a few times when he’s gone out to visit, she’ll go with him to nearby cemeteries. They were even able to locate Lyle’s great-grandmother’s grave on one specific trip together.
“She’s not as addicted as I am,” he admitted. “But she does have a lot, she has 5,000-6,000 names.”
One of the most interesting moments Lyle’s had was once when he got caught in a cemetery during a sudden rain and windstorm blew through. Lyle took refuge under a tree to wait out the storm. The wind was so loud, Lyle didn’t hear a hundred-year-old tree about 50 yards away blow over. A few minutes later when the storm was over, Lyle found the tree and told me “Now we know the answer to the age old question – when a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” I guess not!
One might wonder why Lyle spends so much time taking pictures in cemeteries. Lyle even told me sometimes when he’s out there in a cemetery, he wonders “Why am I doing this? I’ve been out here for 6 hours, I’m starving!”
But every once in a while Lyle will get messages from people much like the one he received yesterday saying
“You found my family’s graves. I live California. Lost my father as a child, and lost the family history with him. So amazing to find my great-grandmother’s grave, [as well as two of her children’s graves]. THANK YOU! I saw their graves. Made my day.”
That’s when he realizes “Okay, THAT’s why I’m doing this. It’s helpful and it will be helpful for the next couple of years. It’s not just this week that we’re concerned about.”
That is what it’s all about. It’s people like Lyle that are selfless and generous with their time who make the BillionGraves project worthwhile. That pay-it-forward mentality is what helps BillionGraves change lives.
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.”
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.”