In my last article about giving back to the genealogy community, I talked about how you can spend a few minutes each week to do some transcription of documents, so that other people’s relatives begin to show up in searchable indexes. The two examples I gave were Ancestry World Archives Project and the FamilySearch Indexing project. If you’ve already decided to sign up and submit a few records, I applaud you. You’re doing the genealogy community at large a huge favor, and you can bet your bottom that others will benefit from your hard work.
These services have quite a few different indexing projects going on all the time, which cover a great many databases. And while they don’t cover cemeteries, they do partner with other cemetery databases that do. So when you search for relatives on Ancestry or FamilySearch, the cemetery records from partner cemetery databases bubble up in the search results.
Cemetery databases often provide information about a person buried, along with a photograph of their headstone. Photographs of headstones can reveal important information, such as birth, marriage and death dates, as well as reveal other family members you didn’t know existed. This is an often overlooked resource when you are stuck on a family member that you knew lived in an area but you don’t have their vital information.
The most popular two cemetery databases are
On FindAGrave, people can request to have contributors near their relative’s cemeteries snap a picture of their headstone or grave. It’s quite typical that you’ll receive a request photo within a week. And since it’s done by a volunteer, it doesn’t cost anything to request a photo.
To contribute, you can sign up for alerts from other users who are requesting photos for graves at nearby cemeteries. You get to pick which cemeteries you get alerts for, and you can claim the requests you actually want to tackle so that you’re not competing with others to make it happen. Additionally, you can also go to cemeteries and add grave information and photos that are missing if you feel like it (though there are rules at some cemeteries about taking photographs of graves without a family member’s permission so be sure you ask the front desk first).
They have partnered with Ancestry, who will index FindAGrave’s databases over time. This will result in the familiar leaf Hints that Ancestry subscribers are familiar with when a cemetery record on FindAGrave matches a person on an Ancestry tree. Can you picture the warm fuzzies a fellow genealogist will feel upon seeing that?
BillionGraves takes a different approach. They provide mobile phone apps that take advantage of GPS locations to detect where you are. Contributors are prompted to snap photographs of each grave, which is uploaded with a precise location on a map. This allows people to quickly see which graves are missing in a large cemetery.
Other contributors decide to transcribe the information on headstones in the photos instead of going out to take photos of the headstones. This allows you to contribute from the comfort of your home, and can also greatly benefit a genealogist looking for cemetery records.
The beauty of this model is that the photos provide information (headstone information) that would otherwise be unknown, since cemeteries will typically not give away their plot databases all at once. The FindAGrave model requires users to call cemeteries to get the plot information, then submit that information to the site, and finally allow users to request photos. But the BillionGraves model gets the photographing out of the way first, and often in batch (a person can walk down a row of graves and take pictures one after the other). Then there is a huge queue of photos waiting to be transcribed by contributors like you.
Which to Contribute To?
My suggestion is that you give both sites a shot. They have very different sets of cemetery data, and I rarely find the same record on both sites. They are both worthy of your contribution time.
I’m only punishing myself for not implementing the idea first. I thought about making a cemetery photo database website for many years, and I just never found the time to get around to making it happen. To make up for that lost opportunity, I try to contribute as many transcriptions as possible.