31 May 2011

Filling a Gap

Since our launch last week we’ve received feedback that some feel we’re duplicating the efforts of Find a Grave, or that we should be collaborating with them. However, we feel that the way things have evolved is a good one: the mission of Find a Grave and the mission of BillionGraves.com are different, so it makes sense that we ended up being separate.

When our team first decided we wanted to work on a project to make gathering cemetery information more efficient and accessible, we attempted to contact Find a Grave to create a partnership: we’d provide a mobile app and they’d provide the website it integrated with. We never did hear back from the folks at Find a Grave, but that’s completely understandable. It makes a lot of sense. Our goals are different than their goals.

Find a Grave creates a sort of online memorial for deceased persons. Genealogical information can be gleaned from these memorials, but that isn’t the primary purpose (Find a Grave lists “grave registration” as its primary purpose; genealogical information is a tertiary purpose). At BillionGraves.com, we wanted to build a fast, easy way to accurately collect and search the genealogical information on headstones. This goal materialized more and more during our years of development, and it meant we needed a fairly complex website structure to support a mobile app. Find a Grave does what it does wonderfully, and it would have been a shame to make its primary purpose harder to achieve with the restructuring it would have taken to integrate the app we envisioned.

At BillionGraves.com we also wanted to make it very simple to capture complete cemeteries full of records that may not exist in any other place. Many people who research family history have heard of the valuable information a researcher can find by stumbling upon a small family cemetery that isn’t on any map or in any database. The mobile BillionGraves app makes it easy to add those sorts of cemeteries to our database and map out all the headstones in them instead of just a select few. Then these previously undocumented and inaccessible sorts of records are easy to find, easy to search, and thus, easy to add to your research and share with others.

Another tool that is already available online is Names In Stone. The site is dedicated to carefully mapping out cemeteries. Names In Stone has worked well with the resources it has; BillionGraves.com can take it one step further. Names In Stone relies on hand-recorded data that is then added to the site. We’ve taken a similar process and automated it using the iPhone app and our servers to map out the cemetery as you’re collecting photos and then making the transcription of those photos quick and simple (it’s fairly easy to collect one photo every 15 seconds or so—much faster than a by-hand system). Interment.net is also a great resource, but also requires a more complicated recording and transcription process.

All the grave-recording services have their own value, and we hope you stay connected to them. Especially while the BillionGraves.com database is in its infancy, these sites will help you further your research. However, we’ll continue to provide our services because hard-working researchers deserve to have tools that fit their needs. These other tools fill some needs, but not others. BillionGraves.com fills the gap.

27 May 2011

Android App Availability

We’ve loved the responses BillionGraves.com is getting. We’ll be addressing them as we can here on the blog. One of the most frequent responses we’ve been hearing is a question: Why isn’t there an Android app, and when will there be one?

To answer the first question (why isn’t there an Android app yet), let it be known that creating an app and a website that play well together isn’t the simplest task in the world, but it made it much easier to accomplish when we only had to set it up with one mobile device to start with. Now that we’ve got the framework set up, it’ll be a lot easier to create an Android counterpart app.

As to the second question (when will it be available), if all goes according to plan, it will be available before the end of June. If all goes exceptionally well, it may even be out within 2–3 weeks. The app will be able to do all the same work as the iPhone app and will open the door to those of you who want to help but don’t have an Apple device.

If you want to be notified when the Android app hits the Marketplace, register on BillionGraves.com. We’ll send an email to all registered users when we’re able to confidently release the app.

25 May 2011

Launching BillionGraves.com

As we here at BillionGraves.com launch our website and release its integrated iPhone app, I wanted to give you an insider look at what we do and why we do it.

Our Story

As I delve into my family history, I celebrate every ancestor I find, and every record or scrap of information I can locate. But over and over, I run into roadblocks. Anyone who really digs for their family roots knows what that feels like. All these records and snippets of history I’m trying to find are out there, somewhere. But all too often I don’t know where to find it, or I can’t find it because I can’t travel to wherever my ancestors were born, lived, or died. But I realized something: every record is near somebody, even if that somebody isn’t me. As far as headstones and graves go, someone out there lives next to the cemetery I need. And who knows, maybe the cemetery they need to search through is the one in my home town.

So my friends and I started work on BillionGraves.com. In building the site and its iPhone app, we’ve created a framework that allows people all over the world to map out photos of all the headstones in their local cemeteries and upload them to the BillionGraves.com database. Once the photos are there, fellow family historians can transcribe the information from the headstones and make it easy to search, which puts unique headstone records only mouse-clicks away from anyone looking for their ancestors. By using the iPhone’s location services, we can ensure that even when descendants are half a world away, they can not only see their ancestors’ information, but they can also see the actual headstones and exactly where those headstones are. Previously undocumented records end up collected in an easy-to-access, free-to-use location, and family historians anywhere can use this framework to build on their existing research.

The trouble is that even though we’ve built this framework, it won’t amount to much unless we have help from all over the world. And by all over the world, I mean if we don’t have help from you. We have the audacious goal to accurately record at least a billion graves for our database, but that can’t happen unless you help us.

How You Can Help

If you have an iPhone, please download the BillionGraves.com app from the iTunes store (available for free from now until June 1 as a Memorial Day special, $1.99 after that). Take your iPhone with you to your local cemetery and start taking photos of the headstones there. You have unique access to those headstones. Share that access with the world.

Once the headstone images are uploaded to BillionGraves.com, everyone—even and especially those who can’t collect photos with an iPhone—can transcribe the previously exclusive records and make them searchable. By transcribing, you’ll make important records available to descendants everywhere.

Help everyone find their ancestors by participating in our grand goal to map out the world’s cemeteries. Together, we can record a billion graves and more so nobody is ever lost or forgotten.