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Find Your Family - Billion Graves

Article Date: 
1 June, 2012 (All day)

Memorial Day is a great time for family history.  Each year my family makes an outing to three or four cemeteries.  A part of our outing is that we have breakfast at the same restaurant each year.  While it may be true that the kids enjoy breakfast more than the cemetery visits, our annual trek has become family tradition, one that my kids even seem to enjoy and look forward to.  

We take time at each of the graves we visit to remember a little about the ancestor who is buried there.  My children know their ancestors better because of the stories.  I hope that the tradition will survive to the next generation and that they will visit the graves of our ancestors (and one day my grave) with their children and reminisce and repeat the stories they have heard.  They may tell the story of Matilda Pool, who was sent by her mother from Spain to Salt Lake.  Her mother hoped to follow, but Matilda never saw her family again.  They may tell stories of my grandmother and her roses.  They may share tales of Grandma Verlene’s trek to the cemetery each year to stomp on the grave of her childhood dentist from whom she suffered pain at each visit.  I hope they remember some of what was shared, but I am sure they will remember the feeling of connecting with those who came before.

Our trip this year had an additional benefit.  A new online site, billiongraves.com is helping individuals document the burial places of their ancestors.  They have released an app for iPhone and Android in addition to the website.  The app and site not only allows you to upload the photos of the headstones and transcribe them, it also uses the smartphone technology to add GPS coordinates that pinpoint the location of the grave on a map.  

The benefits from this approach are many.  Individuals from around the world can take advantage of others visits to cemeteries and can see the images shared by them.  When someone visits a new cemetery and does not know where the headstone is located, the GPS coordinates will significantly reduce the search.  Lastly, one of the most ubiquitous genealogical records is the information recorded at burial sites.  Many clues about individuals can be discovered.  Birth information is normally included on the headstone.  Spouses are very often buried side by side.  Parents, grandparents, and children are often buried nearby.  Clues can be found in who purchased the burial plots.  

Newer technology, like that found in smartphones, is changing the way we interact with the world.  Increasingly we will be able to use our smartphones to find genealogically relevant places near to where we are.  I hope the days of long searches to find a headstone are soon to be in the past.  If you have not experienced billion graves, give it a try.  They next time you are at a cemetery with your smart phone, take a moment to snap a picture and upload it.  It may be that you will provide a clue that solves a genealogical problem for someone else.  You definitely will be making trips to the cemetery by your descendants easier once you are gone and they are searching for graves once visited.