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.