Our local genealogy society receives numerous research requests, some of which are to photograph a tombstone of an ancestor. The biggest challenge in taking the photograph (other than picking a day when the weather conditions are favorable!) is locating the actual tombstone. Until a few months ago, I would use the Grave Marker Inscriptions as a guide, but it was published nearly thirty years ago so it is somewhat dated.
Well, if you’ve read my earlier post from September 10, 2014, you know that my husband, Jim, has photographed most of the tombstones in the Ames cemeteries and uploaded the images to BillionGraves. This remarkable website came to the rescue when I had a request to photograph a stone in which a person had a death date added. She was not a direct descendant of the person but related more distantly. However, she knew there was likely no one else who would provide the final inscription of the death date, so she looked into doing it. (For privacy reasons, I am not using her name.) After contacting the cemetery sexton and learning there was no policy prohibiting a distant relative from contracting the proposed engraving, she hired a monument company who did an incredible job matching the other information on the stone. The final work was impeccable and there was no evidence of the update being done forty some years later.
But the challenge for me in taking the photograph was to locate the stone in a mid-sized cemetery. By searching the name on BillionGraves.com I could get an image of the general area in the cemetery. Then by using the BillionGrave app on my cell phone I had a marker for the location of the grave as well as my location. (Oh, the wonders of GPS!) So, it was a matter of aligning the two points which was fairly easy to do. The tombstone I was looking for was a flat stone and many of the stones in the general area were covered with leaves, it being autumn and October in Iowa. Without the GPS, I would have had to brush away many leaves to find the intended marker, but that wasn’t necessary since I was guided by the visual display.
I am so grateful for this technology … AND the volunteers who take, upload, and transcribe the photos. The person who requested the photos now has the satisfaction the work was done to her specification and the granite memorial is now “complete.”
[My husband Jim has contributed the following description of using the BillionGraves.com search function.]
“BillionGraves.com is a website you can access from your home computer to locate the position of the grave in the cemetery. The first screen which opens offers a series of choices at the top of the screen. “Search” opens a screen show yellow and green boxes, call “Person Look Up” and “Cemetery Look-up.”
If you already know the exact name on the gravestone your are looking for, enter the name. You will also need to enter the “country” “state” and “county” in the boxes below. Touch the search function and the third screen will appear with the gravestone picture on the left and the area of the cemetery on the right. Each of these can be enlarged to let you see the stones clearly and the area of the cemetery where they are placed. A yellow/orange target symbol will be at the stone’s location.
If your computer device or smartphone will work once you are in the cemetery, a blue dot will appear with your location, showing the distance and direction of the gravestone you have named. As you walk toward the gravestone, the blue and yellow/orange target symbols will come closer together. When the two symbols align, you should be within a few feet (5-15 feet) of the gravestone and you should find it easily by looking around.”
Disclaimer: Neither Mary nor Jim Lohr has received any compensation from BillionGraves. We have no connection with the company except Jim has volunteered in taking many pictures and I have used the app.