I just returned from a trip to southern Minnesota to visit with my family. Just before my trip I checked with the Billion Graves website and found that none of the local cemeteries had their tombstones digitally photographed, so I added that to my agenda of things to do.
Southern Minnesota is on the Great Plains where you can look in any direction and see nothing but flat landscape. It’s all corn and soybean fields as far as the eye can see. Hidden throughout the countryside are hundreds of tiny little cemeteries. Some of these cemeteries are small family plots with only a few dozen tombstones. Others might have 50 to 100 stones in them. I decided that I would try and get as many of those tiny cemeteries done as I could. By the end of my trip I was able to capture a little more than 1,200 images and submit them to the Billion Graves website. I only wish I had a few more days to do this. I was having a blast imaging all those tombstones.
Since this was my first real foray into the world of cemetery imaging, everything was a first for me. I’ve written about this website in previous blogs but since most cemeteries in Utah Valley have already been imaged, I didn’t have a lot of personal experience. This trip to Minnesota taught me a few helpful lessons. Let me list a few of the below.
- Digital imaging tombstones was so easy it was amazing. I never thought it would be hard, but I was surprised that it was so easy. I used my Apple iPhone which got great internet reception even out on the plains many miles from the nearest big city. I simply snapped the image and it automatically sent each image to the website. It was just that easy. The best advice I would give to anyone who might be even a little intimidated by the thought of doing this is to just go out and try it. It’s so SIMPLE that doing it will remove any fears you might have!
- Before getting started, read the Billion Graves User’s Guide. It provides a good overview and some simple instructions.
- Bring some kind of recharger for your iPhone. I found that taking all those pictures with the GPS coordinates and sending them to the website used up my phone’s power faster than normal. So bring along something you can use to recharge your phone in your car and have a good book that you can read while it’s charging. Better yet, go out and explore the cemetery and enjoy some of the unique tombstones. I love the sense of humor some people had about death.
- Go to the website beforehand and read some of the guidelines that are provided on the site. You will find them helpful.
- Don’t get in to too big of a hurry as you capture the images. Just as with any camera, if you click your iPhone camera too quickly you run the risk of blurring your picture. I found myself moving along too fast a few times and had to slow down and retake some pictures that I had blurred in my excitement.
- Be mindful of weather conditions. It snowed on the second day I was capturing images. I had to wait until the snow melted and found that some of the tombstones were still wet, which made it hard to read some of the stones. In many cases you will find early morning and late afternoon to be a good time to capture images. Bright sun can rob you of that good contrast on the tombstones.
- Come prepared. If it’s cold bring plenty of warm clothes. If it’s hot, dress in cool light clothing and wear a hat the shades you without getting in the way of your camera lens.
- I wish I would have brought something to brush off some of the loose dirt from the littered stones. Two tools I found very useful was an inexpensive paint scraper that I bought at a local hardware store for $1.99 (CAUTION: before attempting to clean a tombstone, look on the internet to learn what is safe to do and how to do it without causing damage) and a medium sized soft bristle brush to clean off dirt and leaves. If the cemetery is in a state of neglect, you may need to bring something to cut back some of the grass that overhangs onto the tombstones.
- Bring plenty of water to drink and a snack if the cemetery is big.
Go out and try it yourself. I think you will be delighted to see how easy it is to digitize tombstones and submit them to the Billion Graves website. At the end of the day you will be tired but very pleased with the number of grave stones you’ve captured and how much you’ve done to help others find their ancestors’ graves.