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!

21 July 2011

Save a Dollar—Buy the iPhone App Now

Very soon the BillionGraves iPhone app will be available free for download. I’ve discussed before our reasons for charging a nominal “entrance” fee, but we’ve decided that it’s more important to make the app as widely available as we can—we’ll do our best to filter out any less-than-desirable content as quickly as possible so you all can keep transcribing. The Android app has been free since its release (initially because it was missing the Add a Cemetery function, now because we’ve decided to keep everything that way), so it only makes sense that we bring the iPhone app down to match.

Now you’re probably wondering why I said buying the iPhone app now will save you a dollar. (And those of you who have already bought it may be thinking you’ve been cheated out of $2. Never fear. We wouldn’t do that to you.) Allow me to explain.

The upcoming release of version 1.2 will include various upgrades and improvements to the existing app, and it will also provide access to a valuable feature expansion. If you’ve downloaded the app before the 1.2 release, you’ll automatically get the expansion when you update to the new version. After the update the basic version will be free and the expansion can be purchased within the app for $2.99.

See? There’s your dollar saved. The app currently costs $1.99, so if you buy now you’ll get the extra features a dollar cheaper.

The expansion bundle is called Records View, and it includes features many of you have been requesting since we began:
  • 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.

Searching records that have already been transcribed can help you determine where the last BillionGraves user to visit your cemetery stopped mapping. You’ll also be able to check facts and find individuals in other cemeteries. This mobile-friendly view makes mobile searching easier than navigating to the website and using the larger interface.

Use Records View to navigate
through a large cemetery.
Viewing nearby records can help you identify grave markers of note when you’re visiting a cemetery you’re not familiar with (or even one you are—no matter how many times I visit the Orem Cemetery, I still can’t find what I’m looking for without a good deal of wandering). Even if you’re there to visit a particular grave, you may find you have more relatives in plots nearby.

From the list of nearby grave markers, you can select a specific marker to view it on the cemetery map along with your own location. This can help you quickly navigate to the marker you’re looking for. As we add more records-based features, they’ll be available to those who have unlocked the Records View expansion. (As always, anything to do with records will still be free through the website.)

So if you’ve been holding off on buying the iPhone app, hold off no longer. If you have friends or family members who haven’t gotten it yet, let them know about this opportunity to get an expanded version of the app for a dollar off the asking price. After we release version 1.2, they’ll be able to get the basic features (find/add cemeteries, collect/upload photos) for free, so if $1.99 is still too much for them, they don’t have to wait long to get the BillionGraves app.

19 July 2011

Event: Holiday Weekend Cemetery Mapping

This Sunday in Utah (USA) is a holiday called Pioneer Day, when Utahns celebrate the pioneers who first trekked across America’s Great Plains and into the Rocky Mountains to settle the valleys of northern Utah. In case you weren’t already aware, the BillionGraves team is based in Utah, and we’ve decided to celebrate by mapping out graves, some of which belong to pioneer ancestors.

We’ll be meeting at the American Fork Cemetery at 8:00 a.m. this Saturday  morning (7/23/2011) to map out as much of the cemetery as we can. If you’re in the area, please come join us. The American Fork Cemetery has some wonderful history inside. We won’t be there too long, probably half an hour to an hour (unless we’re having too much fun or someone really wants to make it onto the Leaderboard). We’ll have some light breakfast-style refreshments to start the morning off right in a peaceful cemetery.

What: Pioneer Day Cemetery Mapping & Breakfast Treats
Where: American Fork Cemetery
When: 8–9:00 a.m. 7/23/2011. (show up when you can, leave early if you need to)
Who: Us, you, and anyone you can bring along with you. The more the merrier (and the faster we can map the cemetery).

For those of you who aren’t in Utah, I’d still love to see the photos you can collect this weekend. And we’ll report back to let you know how our first BillionGraves event works out.

15 July 2011

Cemetery News Feed

Now you can see all the BillionGraves activity from your dashboard. We’ve added an activity monitor and news feed to the BillionGraves website. Once you log in, you’ll see your dashboard, and in the window just below your profile picture is a set of scrolling news items. This window will display new batches of images, recently added cemeteries, new blog posts, and other items of interest.

The activity monitor will make it easier to see when there’s progress in the BillionGraves effort. (When the photo collectors and transcribers are keeping pace with each other, it’s hard to tell that anything’s happening.) It can also help you see when cemeteries and photos are added to areas that pertain to your research.

New batches of photos and cemetery additions may take some time to reach the activity monitor. Cemeteries need to be approved before they show up in searches or in the monitor, and we don’t want to report a batch of photos before the whole collection has been uploaded (otherwise the news feed will be full of announcements of 1–2 photos when a single 498-photo announcement would have done just as well). Even though the new items won’t strictly be in real time, they’ll still be an easy way to keep your fingers on the BillionGraves pulse.

11 July 2011

Android Update: Add a Cemetery

The initial launch of the Android app featured a bare-bones essentials version: it could find your local cemeteries and it could collect photos, but it couldn’t add cemeteries to the database while mobile (though we add cemeteries manually for any BillionGraves user who notifies us of an unrecorded cemetery). Since the release of the app, we’ve had some time to flesh it out a bit, and we’ll continue to add features and update the app in the Android Market whenever we have something new for you.

This update adds the Add a Cemetery feature to the Android app. It also includes a package of fixes we’ve put together for specific phone models that had unique requirements. Thank you to everyone who let us know about your phone’s quirks—without you we wouldn’t be able to improve the BillionGraves tool. If you’ve experienced any hiccups with the app when it’s running on your device, please contact the support team and let us know so our developers can continue to improve what we have to offer.

08 July 2011

Deciphering Swedish Stones

You may have noticed that there are a lot of headstone photos being collected in Sweden. If you don’t understand Swedish, these photos may be too baffling to transcribe—and if you’re like me, you don’t like having to skip a photo just because of something as silly as a language barrier.

Thankfully, one of our Swedish users has sent in a few tips to help non-Swedish speakers so we can skip fewer headstones and learn something new about Sweden’s graves.

There are a few acronyms to be aware of:
Here, här vilar is written out.

  • H.v.: This stands for här vilar, which in means here rests.
  • F.: This stands for född, which means born. It’s equivalent to née in English. In English, to indicate a maiden name (the name someone is born under), you would write someone’s current first and last name, then née and the maiden name (ex. Laura Jameson née Smith would be a woman who, when she was born, was named Laura Smith). In Sweden, född is used the same way, with född in place of née (Laura Jameson f. Smith). (Trivia for English speakers who didn’t already know, née is French for born, so its use in English is identical to the Swedish word: född and née are the same idea, just communicated with different sounds.)
Axel was a medical officer; Frida’s maiden
name is Nordin.
In the comments on an earlier post, Transcribing Tips & Tricks, a Danish-speaking user also gave a few pointers on Swedish words (Danish and Swedish have several linguistic similarities).
  • Hustrun (and variations) means wife.
  • Makan (and variations) means companion or spouse.
  • Familjegrav indicates that the headstone actually marks a family plot, not one particular head (it sounds a lot like family grave if you say it right). These family plots are very common in the photos that have been collected.
  • A big long word in front of a man’s name probably indicates his profession. (This is why I like to keep Google Translate open when I’m doing transcriptions in languages I don’t know. It increases my chances of not skipping a photo.)

This familjegrav lists individuals;
some don’t.
If you have any other tips about Swedish graves, post them in the comments below. If you have tips about your local graves’ quirks, please email them to kristy.stewart (at) billiongraves.com and I’ll put together a post about your area. It’ll help everyone learn something new, and it will get the photos transcribed and searchable more quickly (and more accurately). Do graves in your country (or local area) tend to be grouped into family plots, like the Swedish familjegrav? Is there a tradition of using family mausoleums? Unique ways of formatting names? We’d be happy to have whatever tips or tidbits of information you’d like to share with us.

All photo examples are taken from Norra begravningsplatsen in Sweden.

05 July 2011

Smartphones in the Summer Swelter

This weekend many of you went out and collected cemetery photos, and speedy transcribers have already made many of those photos searchable. (There are still about 2800 photos—go transcribe!) Some of the photo-collectors may have run into some of the hiccups we hit over one of our state’s hottest weekends this year. Namely, in the heat of the summer sun, an iPhone tends to get warmer than it likes, especially if it’s constantly updating its GPS position.

When your iPhone is overheating, the screen will grow progressively dimmer until it is very difficult to see anything on it. If you ignore this warning sign (or don’t know what it means), your phone will eventually alert you to the problem. If you stop using your phone for a few minutes and go into some shade or indoors, it’ll cool off fairly quickly and be ready to go again.

The problem of overheating may extend to Android phones as well, though currently we’ve only experienced it on iPhones, and only during our recent high temperatures. So while you’re out mapping cemeteries in the summer sun, be aware that some phones (especially those with black cases) may be struggling a bit in the heat, and give your phone a break when it needs it.