01 December 2011

We've Moved Our Blog!

Our blog is now located at blog.billiongraves.com. If you are following this blog, don’t forget to subscribe to the new RSS feed using the new address so you don’t miss any of our informative posts. Everyone will be able to access all previous posts and comments at the new address.

30 November 2011

BillionGraves Update 2.0.1

Version 2.0.1 is now available. While this update fixes minor issues, updating your app helps ensure everything is running smoothly. Don't forget to update your BillionGraves app.

Details for a Few Fixes:
  • The Account View and Add Cemetery View display bug is fixed. 
  • The cancel button is fixed. When you hit cancel in Photos View during a picture upload, the upload process will end.
  • Phones will go into sleep mode after images have finished uploading.
  • The issue where images were not being saved to disk is now fixed.

29 November 2011

Organizing Teams for the BillionGraves iPad Giveaway

Are you trying to find motivation for where to donate your iPad 2? There are plenty of opportunities in your own community. We’ll give you an example. I recently spoke with a fourth grade teacher in my area. Her class has two autistic children in it. They are wonderful children, but it is sometimes difficult for her to be able to teach to their needs, and with budget cuts, she no longer has teacher’s aides to help out. The iPad 2 has been very successful in helping autistic children learn in the classroom—learning by touch is a positive tool for them. This teacher told me she was applying for a few grants in order to get an iPad for her autistic students to use. I told her about BillionGraves and the iPad giveaway event. Her team should be easy to create: if she contacted her PTA and got parents and faculty involved in this cause, she should be able to get dozens of people on her team. Then, she could organize an event at her closest cemetery to get the volunteers excited and involved in taking pictures of headstones. It should only take a month or so to get the points she needs to win that much-needed iPad 2 for her classroom.

Why did we make our iPad Giveaway Event centered on teamwork? Because teams can accomplish so much together. Curtis talked about individual efficiency in a previous post. He told us that the average time it takes one person to capture 1,000 images is around 3 hours. With the goal of 100,000 images to win an iPad 2 for your school or organization, it would take you alone 300 hours, or 12 and 1/2 straight days of photographing. If you even had as few as ten people on your team, the team could reach 100,000 images in just 30 hours. A twenty-person team could reach 100,000 images in three 5 hour sessions. The more people you recruit, the closer your goal becomes.

You can organize a team within your family, among your friends, in your community, or across the globe. Plan a few events to get everyone excited and get them out to their closest cemetery to snap pictures.

If your team is all within your community, arrange a time to meet at one of your cemeteries. Bring people who don’t have smartphones, too. They can go ahead of the picture takers and make sure the headstones are unobstructed. Make a day of it—when you finish one cemetery, caravan to the next cemetery and get that one photographed, too! You can also bring donuts or fruit to reward everyone’s efforts.

If your team is spread across the digital community, you can still organize events, but at different cemeteries. Suggest a day that everyone should go out and collect images at their closest cemeteries.

We suggest creating a Facebook group to help you get the word out to your team, friends, neighbors, family, and community. Here you can post meeting times and locations, inspiration for your team, etc., keeping your team informed and motivated to win that iPad 2!

Facebook’s instructions on how to create a group:
  1. Go to your your home page and click Create Group in the left hand column. If you have existing groups, you may need to click More before you see this link.
  2. A pop-up box will appear, where you will be able to add a group name, add members and select the privacy setting for your group. Click the Create Group button when you're finished. 
  3. Once the group is created, you will be taken to the group's page. To get started click the button at the top right of the page and select Edit Group. From here you can add a group description, set a group email address, add a group picture and manage members.

Invite people to join, share the group on your wall, and tell your friends to invite their friends! Here is sample text you can use to tell people about your BillionGraves group.

Join with me to earn an iPad 2 for ______!
All you need to do is sign up for BillionGraves.com, download the free app to your iPhone or Android phone, and head to your local cemetery. Take pictures of headstones and upload them to the BillionGraves database. Our team will receive one point for every image we upload.
If we reach 100,000 points, we can earn an iPad 2 for ______.
And if our team uploads the most images, we can win another iPad 2!
Sign up online at BillionGraves.com, and add your name to our team: ______

For more information about Facebook groups, click here.

22 November 2011

The Importance of Staying Current

For those who are following the continuing steam of helpful updates, BillionGraves has recently released a version 2.01 of the BillionGraves app for Android and for Apple. While no solution is perfect, each step gets us closer. We try to not make it huge burden by keeping the number of updates down to a minimum. Generally there could be an update once every month or two unless there is something that needs more immediate attention. We invite you to continue to check back to this blog to find out more in the future.

Version 2.01 is easy to update on an Android device using the status bar on the phone or tablet. Apple helps the update process through iTunes. Either way, we would suggest that you find a way to stay current with the updates as they are released.

If you need some assistance in understanding how to update your device, you are welcome to send a note to support@billiongraves.com.


15 November 2011

BillionGraves Team iPad Giveaway

BillionGraves wants to donate brand new iPads to the schools or charities of your choice. Hopefully lots of them! We are pleased to announce our first ever Team iPad Giveaway competition.

This new contest will run from November 1st until the last day of 2011. Our goal is to let our amazing BillionGraves volunteers team up and collect as many new headstone records as possible. You can form a team with anyone you want, including friends, family members, church groups, or even as part of an Eagle Scout Project. Teams can be organized by any registered BillionGraves user. Then, with your team, start taking pictures! For teams that collectively achieve specific milestones by the end of 2011, BillionGraves will donate a brand new Apple iPad 2 to a school or charity of your choice for your efforts. Get excited about this contest; teams are already forming!

Note: Team leaders do not need to have their own Apple or Android smart phone. This promotion is open to any who wish to organize teams of volunteers to set and achieve milestones with wide-reaching benefits.

Happy snapping!

The BillionGraves Team

12 November 2011

BillionGraves Team Achievements

Many of you have seen the event that we launched on Veterans Day in the US:

In the effort to continue building a bevy of image-takers that can keep our powerful volunteer transcription team busy--we have launched the following event:

BillionGraves is providing the opportunity for individuals to band together as team-members through the end of the year. Teams can achieve a variety of milestones through their collective effort of capturing images. The most phenomenal is: an iPad2 will be given in your name to the school or charity of your choice when achieving 100,000 images (obviously specific terms and conditions apply).

We invite you to get more information on BillionGraves.com. Start or join a team and get cracking. You do not need to have an Apple or Android phone to organize and motivate a team! Everyone can participate and we hope that many will take the opportunity to do so. Sometimes all it takes, is an invitation.

09 November 2011

BillionGraves 2.0 for iOS and Android

BillionGraves 2.0 is now available for iOS and Android.

This new release comes with many new features and fixes:

  • Simple New Design
    • An all new simplified design makes it much easier to use. The new layout looks great in both portrait and landscape views, and runs faster than ever!
  • Support for iPad and Android tablets
    • BillionGraves 2.0 is available to use on your iPad. You can search records, view nearby cemeteries and check on your upload stats. Picture taking capability only available on 3G/GPS enabled iPads.
    • The update also runs on all Android tablet devices with all the features that run on standard Android devices. Picture taking capability only available on GPS enabled devices.
  • Favorites
    • BillionGraves 2.0 now features a favorites list in the Records View where you can store and save record information of your ancestors, family members, or other records that are important to you.
    • The favorites list allows you to easily access gravestone record information.
  • Facebook and Twitter
    • You can now easily share all of your exciting BillionGraves activity with your friends when you check-in to a cemetery or upload images.
  • Linking Images
    • You may have noticed there are quite a few headstones with more than one side. In the BillionGraves camera you will now find that there is a link button that allows you to connect multiple images of the same headstone.
    • Just take the first picture, press the "link" button and take the next picture, press the "link" button again for other sides if necessary.
  • Multi-lingual
    • BillionGraves for the iPhone and iPad now supports 3 different languages. English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
  • Miscellaneous Fixes
    • Uploading issues, "Force Quit" problems, and a few other minor bugs have been fixed.
Download the update today in Apple's AppStore or in the Android Market.

Veterans Day USA 11/11/2011

On Friday, November 11th, the United States will observe Veterans Day to honor and thank all military personnel who have served in all wars. There will be special parades, church services, and American flags will be displayed and hung at half mast. At 11 AM two minutes of silence may be held, some schools will be closed and others will hold special assemblies or activities.

In addition to the many ways of observing Veterans Day, we would like to invite all of you to visit a Veteran's cemetery near you to pay tribute to our veterans. While there consider taking pictures of the grave markers as you pass them and help in increasing the number of war veterans headstones currently available at BillionGraves.com. It is very difficult to find and navigate to a loved ones grave without a tool such as BillionGraves.

It is an achievable goal for one individual to take 300 to 400 images in an hour in a typical cemetery. In a well-organized military cemetery that number could easily be double that amount. Here is a list of websites with the locations of many Veterans cemeteries:

Thank you again to all of our amazing volunteers, both those taking pictures and those transcribing them.

08 November 2011

What a response!

As many of you may recall--we posted some encouragement in the form of an email plea for more images. The response on that very day--was overwhelming. We experienced the largest single day of uploads ever recorded. 20% more uploads than our previous biggest day ever and nearly six times the day's previous uploads. Thanks, from all of us who are using the site for research.

However, and almost right on-cue, the day following our new biggest-day-of-image-uploads-ever was followed by an eerily similar (if not identical) uptick in transcriptions. For those who were following, at one point we have more than 4,000 images waiting to be transcribed and within literally hours the number of images awaiting transcription was once-again approaching double digits.

So, what can we learn from this experience?

- Certainly we have the most responsive volunteers both in capturing images and even more impressive--those who are ready and waiting for the opportunity to transcribe. THANKS!

And so, the plea continues to find those who can and will help capture images. If you have children or grand-children, neighbors, friends or business associates--we could use a little help over here.

Consistently I have people that share with me how ludicrous the name of this organization is. A BILLION graves!? they say. How can you be so audacious to make such an outlandish claim? Well, I will tell you:

1- Is that number POSSIBLE? The number of cemeteries (130,000) that we have in our database currently--I estimate represents 70% of the cemeteries in North America and Canada. Some are large and some are small, but if the average cemetery held between 5-6,000 records we easily have a pool of up to 800,000,000 records available to capture. Outside of North America--Latin/South America, Asia, Oceana, and Europe have significantly more cemetery content to offer. Is it possible to achieve one billion records? Clearly.

2- Is it FEASIBLE? The average time it takes to capture 1,000 images is around 3 hours. It would take then, collectively around 3 million volunteer hours to capture the billion images. How can that be accomplished? Well certainly not with one person, or even 100 or 1,000. But if we were to again look and find and recruit around 20,000 volunteers with a smartphone camera (effectively an average of less than 400 volunteers for each state in the US and province in Canada), this task becomes a manageable 150 hours for each volunteer over the next few years. Imagine investing an average of one hour each week; the job gets done in less than 3 years. Granted, it will probably take a little longer--but is it feasible? You bet.

2a- A lot of good people want to add images and indicate that they are without the right smartphone device and assert that there are NOT many folks who have the right device... Did you know that there were more than 100 million smartphones shipped just in the last 3 MONTHS? I certainly think it is feasible to attract a paltry 1 out of every 5,000 people who acquired a smartphone in the past 3 months to volunteer on this great opportunity.

3- Finally, is it REALISTIC? Well, I guess THAT is up to us.

Thanks again for your great work here in building this database of worldwide cemetery content.

11 October 2011

Android Update Version 1.3

Today we released version 1.3 of the Android version of the app. Most of the updates are things you won’t notice—fine-tuning, bug fixes, etc. However, with this update we’ve made peace with several phone models that were formerly hostile to the BillionGraves software.

Android phones vary widely in terms of hardware and software functionality. Not all phones support the type of GPS that can tag your photos’ locations within a reasonable margin of error for cemeteries; some phones just use GPS differently than the majority of the Android models out there.

This update includes patches and workarounds for a number of phones that didn’t support BillionGraves before. If you haven’t been able to run BillionGraves on your Android phone previously, try out this update. If it works for you, let us know; if it doesn’t, still let us know by emailing support @ billiongraves.com. Our development team is always working to improve your use and experience with BillionGraves.

Also of note, we will not be holding a t-shirt contest this month. We will, however, have future contests and I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as we have them ready for you. For now, keep your eyes on the Leaderboard and race to the top.

30 September 2011

September T-shirt Winners

Today's the last day to upload photos for a September t-shirt. Here are this month's winners:

  • Ddwertman
  • lmwillett
  • Sophie
  • mlmckenzie
  • smflatness
  • Gayle
  • sadie63
  • Jeremyeguzman
  • waynedaz
  • Simini
  • WizardAlex
  • J_and_K
  • marnweeks
  • lisabug
If you've crossed the 1,000 threshold (for either GPS-tagged photos or transcriptions) and you have received an email from me, send me a note at kristy.stewart @ billiongraves.com. If you have received an email from me, make sure you've sent me your t-shirt size and address so I can get your shirt to you.

26 September 2011

Another Successful Saturday

This weekend we held our mapping event in Sandy, Utah, USA. We spread the word as best we could to the genealogy community, and we were pleasantly surprised by some new faces among the usual suspects. We started out the day by training everyone on how to use the app, paired some people up in teams so one person could clear the headstone and one could snap photos, and quickly netted ourselves 1,163 new images in Larkin Sunset Gardens.

Our efforts were slightly overshadowed by Hokie374, who single-handedly uploaded 1,682 images this Saturday in Benton County Memorial Gardens in Arkansas, USA.

We saw a big turnout from those of you who couldn’t come to Saturday’s event by virtue of living too far away. On Saturday there were 4,810 uploads—the highest since the end of our first monthly contest in August.

1,682 images in Benton County Memorial Gardens (Arkansas, USA)
1,163 images in Larkin Sunset Gardens (Utah, USA)
863 images in National Military Cemetery (Ohio, USA)
493 images in Lehi Cemetery (Utah, USA)
137 images in Woodlawn Cemetery (Indiana, USA)
121 images in Provo City Cemetery (Utah, USA)
119 images in Hurricane City Cemetery (Utah, USA)
93 images in Riverside (Michigan, USA)
60 images in Treynor Zion Congregational Cemetery (Iowa, USA)
40 images in Wentz Cemetery (Indiana, USA)
23 images in Chiefland (Florida, USA)
6 images in Glen Haven Memorial Cemetery (Ohio, USA)
4 images in Mount Hope Cemetery (California, USA)
2 images in Riverton City Cemetery (Utah, USA)
1 image in Coney Hill Cemetery & Crematorium (England, United Kingdom)
1 image in Penrose Cemetery (Colorado, USA)
1 image in Grace Episcopal Cemetery (Maryland, USA)
1 image in Sandy City Cemetery (Utah, USA)

Thanks to everyone who contributed on Saturday (and every other day this weekend, for that matter)!

23 September 2011

Growing Grave Records

The BillionGraves database of headstone photos and transcribed records just keeps growing, thanks to all of you. Starting this week, I’m going to post a list of all the countries you’ve been uploading from, along with lists of the states, provinces, and other sections within each country. This week we’ve had additions from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Sweden.

This Week’s Additions

United Kingdom
  • England
  • Wales
United States
  • Arkansas 
  • California 
  • Florida 
  • Georgia 
  • Hawaii 
  • Idaho 
  • Illinois 
  • Indiana 
  • Iowa 
  • Kentucky 
  • Louisiana 
  • Maine 
  • Maryland 
  • Massachusetts 
  • Michigan 
  • Minnesota 
  • Nebraska 
  • New York 
  • North Carolina 
  • Ohio 
  • Oklahoma 
  • Oregon 
  • Pennsylvania 
  • South Carolina 
  • South Dakota 
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Skåne 
  • Västra Götaland

Newest T-shirt Winners

Along with our new photos and records, we also have some new t-shirt winners. Congratulations!
  • smflatness (1697 images)
  • Gayle (1154 transcriptions)
  • sadie63 (1020 transcriptions)
  • Jeremyeguzman (1005 transcriptions)
  • Simini (1080 transcriptions)
  • waynedaz (1076 transcriptions)

Mapping Even Tomorrow

Last of all, don’t forget that tomorrow is the mapping even in Sandy, Utah, USA. If you’re in the Wasatch Front are or know someone who is, set your reminders. We’ll see you at Larkin Sunset Gardens at 9:00 a.m.!

14 September 2011

Event: Cemetery Mapping in Sandy, Utah

It's been a while since the BillionGraves team last organized a cemetery-mapping event, so we're planning one for next Saturday, September 24. You're invited.
  • WHO: Anyone near enough to join us (photo collectors and transcribers are all welcome!).
  • WHAT: Mapping out the Memorial Gardens of the Valley / Larkin Sunset Gardens area.
  • WHEN: September 24, 2011 at 9:00 a.m. 
  • WHERE: Memorial Gardens of the Valley / Larkin Sunset Gardens in Sandy, Utah, USA. It's on the corner of 1700 E and Dimple Dell Road (10600 S). If you go east off the 10600 S exit coming off of I-15 you have a straight shot out to the cemetery. Meet in the circular patch of cemetery marked below.

I hope to see lots of you there! We'll plan on staying for an hour at least. Come as you can, leave early if you must. Even if you can only stop in for 15 minutes or so between your kids' soccer games, we'd be happy to have you.

In other news, we've had four people earn their t-shirt this month (there are lots of other people who have crossed the 1,000 mark, but many of them have already earned their shirts).

  • Ddwertman (1413 photos)
  • lmwillet (1318 photos)
  • Sophie (1875 transcriptions)
  • mlmckenzie (1046 transcriptions)

Awesome work, you four. Thank you for your contributions!

09 September 2011

Transcribing for Posterity

Recently BillionGraves crossed the 200,000-record mark, and the number it still climbing. In light of all these available records, I thought I’d revisit some points on how to give the best you can while you’re transcribing.

The most important part about transcribing is remembering that you’re trying to make sure as much information as possible gets into the searchable fields. Our search engine can’t search images; it can only search words. The more information you get into typed-up words, the more information the search engine can sort through to help people find their families.

With that in mind, most of these points will be apparent.
  • Transcribe every part of the name and as much of a date as you can. This is going to be one of the most important things you can do because names and dates are the first way researchers will try to locate someone.
  • Transcribe the ages of the deceased individual (if it is written on the stone). Some headstones or grave markers provide only one date: either the birth date or the death date. However, many of these stones will say how old the individual was in years, and possibly even months and days as well. This information is as important as a date. It will help researchers narrow their search in other records besides the headstone.
  • Transcribe the epitaph if you can at all read it (and if there is one on the stone).* It is less likely that a descendant will be using the epitaph to search for someone. However, because epitaphs are typically complete phrases, they are sometimes easier to remember than names and dates. Someone searching for a stone they once visited might be able to remember the epitaph and not the name.
  • Transcribe any other information you can get off the stone. Any of the stone’s information could be helpful in finding an individual’s grave and in recording it for posterity. If you can read it, please put it in your transcription, even if you aren’t sure what it means.
  • Transcribe headstones in their native language. If you would like to provide a translation into your own language, you may do so in the Description field. However, the transcription information should include the headstone information as it appears on the stone. That is the primary goal of the transcription. Anything else is gravy. If you cannot transcribe the stone in its native tongue, skip it.
If you’re following those principles, other aspects of transcribing don’t matter as much. Some of you transcribe in all caps (which used to be standard in genealogy transcriptions because it saves the difficulty of figuring out what to capitalize). This is just fine, because your transcription will show up in the search just the same, and the important thing is to direct searchers to the photo. If you capitalize normally, even if the headstone is carved in all caps, that is also just fine—the transcription will show up in a search normally. The important part is to turn the headstone’s text into something the BillionGraves search engine can understand.

Thank you for all your hard work, and for pushing the records we can share above 200,000!
*Currently the BillionGraves search engine cannot search the epitaph or description fields of a transcription, but it is something we will add eventually.

02 September 2011

Deciphering Welsh Writing

Transcribers may have noticed the recent influx of Welsh headstones. When BillionGraves first started to get a lot of photos from Sweden, one of our users provided information to help us transcribe Swedish stones. Luckily one of the individuals uploading photos from Wales has supplied a similar primer that explains phrases and words that commonly appear on Welsh headstones. Below are list of months, weekdays, family relations, feminine and masculine possessive forms, plural possessive forms, notes of affection (usually found in the epitaph), preliminary statements (also common in epitaphs), and  other key words and phrases.

You’ll notice that some words appear in more than one form. For example, son appears as both mab and fab. This is because in Welsh, certain letters undergo a sound mutation when combined with other sounds. Thus mab means son when the word stands alone, but in a phrase like her beloved son it appears as fab (ei hannwyl fab) because the M sound mutates to an F (which, in Welsh, sounds like the English V—are you confused yet?).

(Note: Even though this post will give you translations for some Welsh words, please transcribe the stone in the original language; you can add the English translation in the description box if you so choose. Most of these are listed to help you determine which words on the stone are names and how to determine the birth and death dates.)

Months of the Year
Welsh: English
Ionawr: January
Chwefror: February
Mawrth: March
Ebrill: April
Mai: May
Mehefin: June
Gorffennaf/Gorphenaf: July
Awst: August
Medi: September
Hydref: October
Tachwedd: November
Rhagfyr: December

Days of the Week
Dydd Llun: Monday
Dydd Mawrth: Tuesday
Dydd Mercher: Wednesday
Dydd Iau: Thursday
Dydd Gwener: Friday
Dydd Sadwrn: Saturday
Dydd Sul: Sunday

Family Relations
Baban: Baby
Brawd: Brother
Cefnder: Cousin (Male)
Chwaer: Sister
Cyfnither: Cousin (Female)
Gwraig: Wife
Gwr: Husband
Mab: Son
Mam: Mother
Mam-gu: Grandmother
Merch: Daughter
Nai: Nephew
Nain: Grandmother
Nith: Niece
Plant: Children
Plentyn: Child
Priod: Spouse
Tad: Father
Tad-cu: Grandfather
Taid: Grandfather
Wyr: Grandson
Wyres: Granddaughter

Feminine Possessive Forms
Ei gwr: Her husband
Ei mab: Her son
Ei merch: Her daughter
Ei mherch: Her daughter
Ei phlentyn: Her spouse
Ei phriod: Her spouse
Ei hannwyl blentyn: Her beloved child
Ei hannwyl briod: Her beloved spouse
Ei hannwyl fab: Her beloved son
Ei hannwyl ferch: Her beloved daughter
Ei hannwyl wr: Her beloved husband

Masculine Possessive Forms
Ei blentyn - His child
Ei briod - His Spouse
Ei fab - His son
Ei ferch - His daughter
Ei Wraig - His wife
Ei annwyl blentyn - His beloved child
Ei annwyl briod - His beloved spouse
Ei annwyl fab - His beloved Son
Ei annwyl ferch - His beloved daughter
Ei annwyl wraig - His beloved wife

Plural Possessive Forms
Eu mab: Their son
Eu baban: Their baby
Eu merch: Their daughter
Eu plenty: Their child
Eu hannwyl blentyn: Their beloved child
Eu hannwyl fab: Their beloved son
Eu hannwyl faban: Their beloved baby
Eu hannwyl ferch: Their beloved daughter

Notes of Affection
Anwyl Blant: the beloved children
Annwyl blentyn: the beloved child
Annwyl briod: the beloved spouse
Annwyl dad: the beloved father
Annwyl fab: the beloved son
Annwyl faban: the beloved baby
Annwyl fam: the beloved mother
Annwyl ferch: the beloved daughter
Annwyl wr: the beloved husband
Annwyl wraig: the beloved wife

Preliminary Statements
Bedd: Grave
Er cof am: In memory of
Er cof tyner am: In tender memory of
Er serchog gof am: In loving memory of
Er serchus gof am: In loving memory of
Gorweddle: The resting place
I gofio’n dyner am: In tender memory of
O dan y garreg hon: Underneath this stone
Yma y claddwyd: Here was buried
Yma y gorwedd: Here lieth

Other Key Words and Phrases for Headstones
Blwyddyn: Year
Corff/Corph: Body
Diwrnod: Day
Dydd: Day
Ganwyd: Born
Gynt o: Formally of
Hefyd: Also
Hunodd yn yr Iesu: Fell asleep in Jesus
Isod: Underneath/Below
Mis: Month
Oed: Age
O’r plwyf hwn: Of this parish
Y dywededig uchod: The above named (Male)
Y Ddywededig uchod: The above named (Female)
Yn 7 mlwydd oed: 7 years old
Yr hwn a fu farw: Who died (Male)
Yr Hon a fu farw: Who died (Female)
Uchod: Above

If you’re looking up Welsh words in a dictionary, remember that CH, FF, LL, RH, TH, and DD are all distinct alphabet letters with their own sounds, so words that start with CH will be found in the CH section of a dictionary, not the C section, etc.

If you think transcribers could use some tips for transcribing headstones from your area, send some notes to me at kristy.stewart @ billiongraves.com and I’ll share them here for everyone to use.

01 September 2011

August’s Winners and September’s Contest

August has been a photo-, map-, and transcription-filled month, and you all have been amazing in the process. Every one of you contributing to BillionGraves has contributed to the awesome growth we’ve seen and to the growing number of complete cemetery records and photos that are now available.

Looking Back at August

There have been thousands of photos uploaded, and there have been many thousands of records transcribed. In fact, there have been so many transcriptions from dedicated individuals that even though we said this month’s promotion would only give t-shirts to those who uploaded photos from the app that we’re sending t-shirts to individuals who transcribed over 1,000 images in August. (If you’re one of these great people, check your email and please get your t-shirt size and shipping information to me as soon as possible.)

Here are this month’s winners and their totals (as of around 10:00 p.m. GMT):

Photo collectors:
  • Dswillet (10504)
  • Gableboy (2327)
  • Mitchowl (8087)
  • PapaMoose (1014)
  • ValerieC84 (1088)
  • GeneologyMaster (1151)
  • Hokie374 (9016)
  • tjalbrecht (5269)
  • ladyr0wan (1210)
  • DdraigGoch (1618)
  • crex (1159)
  • Anne Ryan (1998)
  • Bmathis (1452)
  • Rbemis01 (4127)
  • MichaelMcCormick
  • Chynna67 (1433)
  • Vickytb (1120)
  • TaraDuncan (1078)
  • waterfreak2009 (1925)
  • Chrisser (2115)
  • Joe&Murphy (1572)
  • huntingsage (1137)
  • grave_hopper (1169)
  • shelter (1737)
  • masters001 (1047)
  • dvdmovieking (1006)
  • Catirrel (1089)

Transcribers (if a transcriber already earned a t-shirt from uploading photos, he or she doesn’t get another one):
  • trishkovach (11536)
  • DdraigGoch (10961)
  • RWhisnant (10197)
  • EAC61 (6577)
  • Rbemis01 (5181)
  • SouthPawPhilly (5080)
  • Anne Ryan (3222)
  • Finnsh (3140)
  • Chynna67 (3115)
  • juicyjaffa (2429)
  • dvdmovieking (2141)
  • MollyM (2042)
  • Russell808 (1834)
  • tjalbrecht (1729)
  • grave_hopper (1425)
  • cemeteryschlep (1365)
  • foxhunt (1298)
  • sls1966 (1268)
  • deacent (1151)
  • Bmathis (1059)
  • delmonic1970 (1019)

To everyone, even those who didn’t make it into the over-1,000 club, thank you so much for your contributions to the BillionGraves project!

Looking Forward to September

Now that August is over, what are we going to do for September? For starters, we’re going to duplicate last month’s t-shirt contest: If you upload 1,000 GPS-verified* photos OR transcribe 1,000 photos, you will earn a BillionGraves t-shirt. For those of you who have already won your t-shirt, you won’t get another one if you cross the 1,000-photo threshold, but I hope you won’t let your cemetery-mapping habits falter.

Also, even if you’ve already won your t-shirt, don’t stop there! Let your spouses, friends, children, grandchildren, cousins, neighbors—even complete strangers—know about BillionGraves. The more people we have working on the project, the more cemeteries we can get mapped out, and the more ancestors we can help each other find.

*GPS-verified photos are headstone photos that come through the free BillionGraves app for iPhone and Android.

31 August 2011

Linking Photos of the Same Headstone

The recent Android update included numerous bug fixes and one new feature: linking images. This feature is in response to the need we’ve found (and you’ve undoubtedly seen) to link multiple images of the same headstone so anyone looking for the ancestor buried under that stone can get all the information available.

Using this feature is very simple:

  1. Take a picture of one side of the headstone.
  2. Tap the linking icon (the two chain links in the bottom left corner).
  3. Take a picture of the other side of the headstone.
After you take the second picture, the linking will turn off. If you need to link more than two photos, just tap the linking button again after the second picture and so on until you’ve photographed the entire headstone. (You might also use it when you can get most of a headstone’s information in one shot, but because of tree roots or other immovable obstructions you need another photo to get all the information. Another opportunity for linking is when one large stone bears the family name associated with a large group of small stones surrounding it.)

Right now this feature is only available on Android, but the update to the iPhone is on its way. If you have linked photos together, right now that linking will not display on the website. The developers haven’t had a chance to implement a way to view and transcribe linked photos together. However, the website will be able to remember that the images are linked, so once we have that up and running the linking will display. We didn’t want to delay getting this feature out to you, even if it can’t display on the website, because keeping a single stone’s information together is so important.

Linking on the website will continue to evolve and improve, but for now, it’s fully functional on Android devices and you should make use of it when it’s needed. 

On a completely unrelated note: You only have a few more hours to collect your 1,000th photo and earn your t-shirt. Hurry! Get out to the cemetery and map out those stones!

30 August 2011

Android Update: Avoiding the Crash

Today we released an update to the Android app that has some awesome fixes and will make it easier for more of you to use BillionGraves.

We’ve received reports from some of you that the app would force close when you tried to take a photo; that is probably the biggest issue that this update resolves.

There have also been some individuals whose new phones have not been able to get a GPS lock. This update will fix that problem for many users. (We know of one phone type that still cannot get an accurate lock and the developers are still hard at work getting it up and running. However, there are too many valuable fixes in this update for it to make sense to keep it from the rest of you based on that phone.)

In addition to these two big fixes, the developers have made several tweaks to improve the app’s ability to work on the variety of Android hardware and software.

If your phone has been having trouble running the app, download the update and take it for another trial run. Then pass your feedback along to support@billiongraves.com—as I’ve said before, the more information you can give us about your experiences, the better we can make BillionGraves.

29 August 2011

The T-shirt Deadline Approaches

August is nearly over, so if you’re anywhere near collecting 1,000 GPS-tagged photos, hurry and collect the last few you need to earn your BillionGraves t-shirt. We’ve had a few new winners since the last time I announced the list, so I’ll post it again here with the added names. (If you think you’ve uploaded 1,000 photos from the app, but you haven’t received an email from me asking for your shipping address and shirt size, email me at kristy.stewart @ billiongraves.com and let me know.)

  • dswillet
  • Gableboy
  • Mitchowl
  • PapaMoose
  • ValerieC84
  • GeneologyMaster
  • Hokie374
  • tjalbrecht
  • lady0rowan
  • DdraigGoch
  • crex
  • Anne Ryan
  • Bmathis
  • Rbemis01
  • MichaelMcCormick
  • Chynna67
  • Vickytb
  • TaraDuncan
  • Chrisser
  • Joe&Murphy
  • waterfreak2009
  • huntingsage
  • grave_hopper
  • shetler
If you have a smartphone with true GPS, you still have time to collect 1,000 headstone photos. Upload your photos by 11:59 p.m. UTC and you’ll have won yourself a BillionGraves t-shirt.

26 August 2011

Understanding Name Discrepancies on Headstones

This Wednesday I had the pleasure of chatting with the sexton of the largest municipal cemetery in the United States: Salt Lake City Cemetery. With over 120,000 graves inside, it’s quite the area of responsibility to look after and care for. The sexton was very open to sharing some of his experiences with me, and there was one aspect of his work that I found interesting: sometimes the name on someone’s headstone is not the name they went by, or even their official name.

This name discrepancy can even exist within cemetery records—sometimes the sexton has the official name recorded, but the “unofficial” name gets put on the headstone. Most of the time this isn’t the case, but the SLC sexton has known it to happen often enough that it’s worth mentioning.

The reason behind these discrepancies is that what goes on the headstone is 100% the surviving family members’ decision. What the family puts on the headstone is what makes the most sense to them, and sometimes that means using a personal, in-the-family name on the grave monument.

This makes sense. However, if you’re looking for hard facts to put into your family tree, it can cause you a bit of a hiccup if the headstone record doesn’t match the other sources you already have (or other sources you find further down the research road). Even so, having these not-so-official names (or official names that defy what the deceased individual was called in life) can give you an interesting peek into the family relations or traditions of your ancestors. You can learn about a nickname, understand a personal quirk, or uncover a family dispute (the sexton said that sometimes, sadly, he’ll see mourning families divided over what to put on the headstone because everyone feels so close to the deceased).

Knowing what’s on someone’s headstone gives you a glimpse at his or her circumstances in the last times of their life. It can help you see them as a person instead of a name on a chart, or understand family dynamics from the past. This is part of the reason why photos are such an integral part of BillionGraves. Abbreviated records (or official records) may not capture the same character and personality that many headstones can portray. When you can see the actual stone, just as though you were in the cemetery yourself, you can gather information and impressions you couldn’t get from just a name and a pair of dates.

Name discrepancies in old records can be frustrating, but even when your sources don’t completely support one another, each one can add to the past-filled family portrait you try to paint with your family research. When it comes to getting to know your family, every little bit helps.

The headstone photo was taken in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Turning the headstone into a sort of mountain sculpture adds character, don’t you think?

23 August 2011

More Graves, More Winners

The number of graves you have all mapped out and transcribed is climbing faster than ever—even slow upload days are higher than the average we had before August. You have all really stepped up to the plate on this, and the number of individuals who have earned their t-shirt is growing apace. We have 19 t-shirt winners, and there’s still more than a week left! Here’s a list of our current winners:

  • dswillet
  • Gableboy
  • Mitchowl
  • PapaMoose
  • ValerieC84
  • GeneologyMaster
  • Hokie374
  • tjalbrecht
  • lady0rowan
  • DdraigGoch
  • crex
  • Anne Ryan
  • Bmathis
  • Rbemis01
  • MichaelMcCormick
  • Chynna67
  • Vickytb
  • TaraDuncan
The Leaderboard gives us a glimpse of all the transcribers who are taking the uploaded photos and making them searchable. Right now the lowest number of transcriptions on the Leaderboard (which now extends to 25 instead of 10) is 325; the highest is a whopping 10,170 transcriptions from RWhisnant! And even with RWhisnant’s astounding numbers, we’ve had so many uploads that there are still over 5800 images available to transcribe. This is an amazing month for cemetery record collection.

11 August 2011

Top-Notch Transcribers

Yesterday was a landmark day for the transcribers: there were more records transcribed yesterday than ever before (and the gap between yesterday and every other day was sizeable). Those transcriptions put us over a major milestone: 100,000 records. Each of those records belongs to someone’s family member, and now they’re easy to find for anyone who’s looking for them.

We’ve had some more photo collectors cross the 1,000-photo finish line as well: tjalbrecht, Hokie374, GeneologyMaster, ValeriC84, and PapaMoose (though PapaMoose assures me that his nephew was actually taking many of the photos while he was clearing off the stones, so he’s going to give his t-shirt to Helpful Nephew). These collectors have been a part of a huge spike in photo uploads.

Those photos have been uploaded from all over, and here’s a sample of the areas we’ve gotten photos from in the past two days, divided by continent.

North America
  • Alabama, USA 
  • California, USA 
  • Idaho, USA 
  • Louisiana, USA 
  • Michigan, USA 
  • New York, USA 
  • Ohio, USA 
  • Ontario, Canada 
  • Pennsylvania, USA 
  • South Carolina, USA 
  • Texas, USA 
  • West Virginia, USA 
  • Wales, UK 
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Canterbury, New Zealand
Many of these areas have even had more than one of their cemeteries updated in the past two days, so we’ve had a lot of additions. Thanks, everyone!

09 August 2011

Free App & First Winners

Yesterday version 1.2 of the iPhone app was released, so the app is now free. I’ll talk more about the new features in the app in a bit; first I want to talk about some amazing people.

First, a big thank you to everyone who uploaded photos over the weekend. We’ve had our strongest four days ever, with thousands of photos uploaded every day.

Second, an equally big thank you to our expertly efficient transcribers, who seem to keep up just fine with the increase in uploads.

Third, a thank you and congratulations to our first t-shirt winners, DSWillett, Gableboy, and Mitchowl. All three of them have crossed the 1,000-photo threshold and have earned their BillionGraves t-shirt for the August promotion. (They’re also sitting quite comfortably at the top of the Leaderboard.) Awesome job, you three. I’m amazed at what you were able to do in only eight days.

Now that we’ve taken a moment to acknowledge everyone who keeps new information pouring in to BillionGraves, we have a chance to talk about the update for the iPhone app.

Version 1.2 has several enhancements, but there are a few you’ll notice more than the others:

  • Faster photo taking
  • Ability to add a cemetery using an address (in case you can’t get to the cemetery and add it using your current location)
  • The dashboard displays your transcription count along with your other counts
  • A link to the User Guide from the Settings view (in case you have any questions while you’re using the app)

The last, most drastic improvement to the app is the optional feature expansion available for a $2.99 in-app purchase (if you’re updating to version 1.2 from an earlier version you get the expansion automatically). This expansion bundle is called Records View. I’ve mentioned it before, but in case you missed the explanation, Records View unlocks three main options:

  • Search records that have already been transcribed from within the app (searching on the website is still, of course, free).
  • View a list of transcribed records whose GPS tags are near your current location.
  • View an already transcribed photo on the map along with your current location (this makes it easy to navigate to a headstone in an unfamiliar cemetery).

Records View allows you to access and utilize the information, photos, and records on the BillionGraves database in new and useful ways. I hope all of you who unlocked it automatically by updating enjoy the new feature bundle, and that those of you who are new to BillionGraves will consider adding this tool to your research toolbox.

05 August 2011

August Uploads and Solar Storms

Thanks to so many of you, yesterday was the second largest uploading day BillionGraves has ever seen (the biggest uploading day coincided with our first cemetery event). We saw photos from all over pour into the database, and we appreciate every one of them.

One person who significantly contributed to the uploading spike was user DSWILLET (he or she doesn’t capitalize the username; I do that because whoever this is deserves more than all lowercase letters). This morning DSWILLET tops the Leaderboard with 1,014 images uploaded since August 1. A small portion of those photos—about 250—were uploaded using the new uploading feature we’re testing, so they don’t have GPS tags on them. But DSWILLET is only 239 images away from the 1,000-photo threshold, and it’s only August 5.

There are other users who are well on their way to the 1,000-image mark, and we haven’t even hit a weekend yet. Thank you all for mapping out your local cemeteries.

In not-as-fun news, there is a possibility that GPS systems will be a bit glitchy this weekend. There have been three large solar flares recently, and the resulting coronal mass ejection (CME) could toy with radio traffic, power grids, and satellites. That isn’t to say everything related to GPS will break down for a few days, but if your GPS isn’t working the way it should, blame the sun, wait it out a day or two, and try again. If you’re close enough to the poles to see the auroras, enjoy the light show. I wish it could come as far south as Utah.

01 August 2011

Earn a BillionGraves T-shirt

This month we want to give you a t-shirt. We’ll send a free BillionGraves t-shirt to anyone who collects and uploads 1,000 GPS-verified* photos before August 31 (anything uploaded from August 1 onward counts).

Collecting 1,000 photos may sound a bit daunting, but it really isn’t. Though your photo-collection rate will vary depending on the types of headstones you’re mapping and environmental factors, about 3 hours spent mapping should get you 1,000 photos. There are dozens of ways to fit those 3 hours into your month.

  • Spend 45 minutes each week collecting photos: use your Saturday mornings or spend a lunch break in the fresh air.
  • Add 10–15 to your daily commute and collect a small batch of photos every weekday.
  • Plan a single, 3-hour weekend morning in the cemetery (be sure to bring a charger for your phone).

Click on the shirts to see a larger photo.

1,000 photos is an achievable goal for any of you who have the app: I hope we end up sending out a whole lot of t-shirts when August comes to a close.

*GPS-verified photos are collected and uploaded with the app, not the web-based uploader we’re currently testing.

29 July 2011

Testers Needed for a New Feature

In the past, we on the BillionGraves team have gotten a lot of requests to allow photo uploads from devices that aren’t smartphones. We’ve always answered by saying that we want the information on BillionGraves to be as precise as possible, especially on details like the location of a headstone. We’ve also been neck deep in making the smartphone–website transition smoother and making the smartphone apps the best they can be.

However, a couple of the developers have had some time to put together a way to upload photos that are saved to your computer from a non-smartphone device.

Once these photos are uploaded, they will display in the search results, but they will be secondary to photos that have precise GPS locations from the mobile app. If a headstone photo is first uploaded from another source, and then later someone uploads a photo of it using the app, those two photos can be merged under one record and you’ll be able to see in the search results that the headstone’s location is verified.

(Speaking of merging photos, we’ve almost finished our system to merge duplicate images and records. Once we have that in place and have caught up on the current collection of duplicates, each record will only appear in the search results once.)

Before we open the new uploader to everyone on BillionGraves, we want to test it with a smaller group of individuals to make sure everything is working properly. If you have a collection of headstone photos you’d like to contribute to BillionGraves and you’re willing to play the guinea pig for a bit, email support@billiongraves.com. We’ll open it up to a small group and once we’re sure it works, we’ll open it up to everyone.

27 July 2011

Planning Local Events

You’ve probably already seen the results of the event we planned to map out part of a Utah cemetery; now try to create some similar results in your area. If you know enough BillionGravers in your area, let them all know a place and a time to get together and snap photos. If you don’t know of any in your area, try contacting a local genealogical society and volunteering to organize an event for its members, or recruit friends and family to help you (a family picnic in the cemetery?). Once you decide on a place and time, let me know about it (kristy.stewart [at] billiongraves.com) so I can announce it here and try to get even more people to attend. Afterwards, let me know a little bit about your area and the stones you mapped out.

At least one BillionGraver would like to plan a BillionGraves event: his name is Matt Hall and you may have seen him commenting here on the blog. He’d like to plan an event in Northern California, but he doesn’t know if there are any other cemetery mappers up in his area. So if you live in Northern California, or if you know people who live in Northern California and would be interested in BillionGraves, post here in the comments so Matt can try to get a solid cemetery-mapping squad together.

25 July 2011

Meeting Up for Cemetery Mapping

Our cemetery mapping trip celebrating Utah's Pioneer Day was a definite success: American Fork Cemetery is now 2402 images richer. A small group of 15 BillionGraves contributors gathered in the cemetery and in an hour or so had recorded over a third of the grounds. Some people stopped by after a weekend bike ride; others came from the next valley over to help us map the history the cemetery had to offer.

Our awesome mappers (minus some who had to leave early and me,
because I'm taking the photo and I'm not nearly as
awesome as they are).

Finn (a transcriber) sweeps a stone before
I take a photo.
Not everyone who came had a smartphone, but even those who weren't snapping photos made it faster and easier to record American Fork's headstones. One transcriber brought a broom to help clear the headstones to ensure he'd have good photos that were easy to transcribe when he went home. Others were able to hold up blankets or other props to help fabricate good lighting for each headstone.

My mother holds up a blanket so I can get a good photo.
Since we did our mapping in the morning, many of the headstones had ideal light. However, a few of them ended up with partial shadows cast by trees or other less-than-desirable circumstances, so we made our own lighting using some basics that I always keep in my car. (I've recommended multiple times that you avoid casting shadows, but that is mostly to avoid partial shadows, which can toy with your photo's contrast and make it difficult to read. We used a blanket I keep in my car's back seat to cast complete shadows when a headstone was under a tree or something else immovable.)

The props we found most useful were my blanket and our transcriber friend's broom, but I would have liked to have a powerful flashlight. Some light-colored stones didn't have much contrast on the lettering, and a mirror or flashlight could have targeted some light at just the right angle to bring out the words.

One other hiccup we ran into was sprinklers. They turned on partway through our mapping, but a few intrepid photo collectors dodged them to get the last of their photos.

After mapping out our 2400 photos, we indulged in some delicious bagels for breakfast. All in all, a good event. It also helped us celebrate Pioneer Day (a Utah holiday) because we were able to find the graves of some of those we were celebrating. Pioneer Day celebrates those who trekked across America's Great Plains to settle in Utah. Many of these pioneers have commemorative plaques affixed to their headstones. The plaques were created in 1997 for the sesquicentennial celebration of the journey (the migration began in 1847, though it continued for years afterwards), so the plaques say "Faith in Every Footstep, 1847-1997." Finding these pioneer headstones and recording them on BillionGraves was the perfect way to commemorate their journey.

We also discovered something none of us had known about: American Fork's Heritage Pageant, which takes place in the cemetery among those the pageant strives to remember. The pageant participants were setting up for a practice session while we were visiting. You learn the most interesting things in cemeteries!

Those of us at the American Fork Cemetery were hardly the only ones out mapping headstone photos this weekend. I said I'd like to see what the rest of you could collect, and you delivered. There were thousands of uploads this weekend alone.

517 in Mount Pleasant Cemetery (Gravette, Arkansas, USA)
449 in Alpine Cemetery (Alpine, Utah, USA)
155 in Maple Grove (Ovid, Michigan, USA)
99 in Gunnarsnäs (Mellerud, Västra Götland, Sweden)
87 in Putnam Cemetery (Sciota, Michigan, USA)
86 in Rexburg Cemetery (Rexburg, Idaho, USA)
83 in Lilley Grave Cemetery (Garberville) (Garberville, California, USA)
80 in Loudon Park Cemetery (Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
74 in Maclean Lawn Cemetery (Townsend, New South Wales, Australia)
74 in Jane Cemetery (White Rock, Missouri, USA)
58 in Old Saint James Cemetery (Leesburg, Virginia, USA)
57 in Richmond City Cemetery (Richmond, Utah, USA)
26 in Rigby Pioneer Cemetery (Rigby, Idaho, USA)
23 in Hollisterville Cemetery (Salem, Pennsylvania, USA)
21 in Maclean Cemetery (Maclean, New South Wales, Australia)
21 in Mineral Spring Cemetery (Pawtucket, Rhode Island, USA)
12 in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery (San Antonio, Texas, USA)
11 in Bountiful Memorial Park (Bountiful, Utah, USA)
6 in Farstorp (Hässleholm Municipality, Skåne, Sweden)
6 in Hackett Cemetery (Dearborn, Missouri, USA)
12 in the Sons of Israel Cemetery / Evergreen Cemetery / The Shrine of Remembrance Mausoleum area (Colorado Spring, Colorado, USA)
3 in Platte City Cemetery (Carroll, Missouri, USA)
2 in Bendle Cemetery (Flushing, Michigan, USA)
2 in Blumfield Cemetery (Reese, Michigan, USA)
1 in Brookside Cemetery (Fairgrove, Michigan, USA)

Thanks for all your contributions, everyone!